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Choosing a care home

We explain how to shortlist suitable care homes in your chosen area and how to find out as much as possible to ensure your loved one’s needs are met.
5 min read
In this article
1. Talk through the options 2. Make a shortlist of suitable care homes  3. Ask friends and family for recommendations 4. Read the care home inspection reports
5. Contact suitable care homes 6. Visit the care homes 7. Get a needs assessment Downloadable checklist: Questions to ask when choosing a care home

Coronavirus and care homes

Find out about the measures being taken to protect residents and staff and learn about the latest rules on visiting a loved one.

1. Talk through the options

Before you start shortlisting any care homes, sit down with the person you’re caring for (if they’re able to have such conversations), and discuss what’s important to them. This might involve location, facilities or specialist care for a specific health problem. What do they consider ‘essential’ and what is ‘desirable’? You might want to include other close family members or friends when talking about care options, too.

Additional questions are bound to come up once you start looking for the right home, but you can use this conversation as a starting point. 

Our downloadable checklist of questions to ask a care home is also a great way to start thinking about your priorities when choosing a home.

Checklist: Questions to ask when choosing a care home
(pdf 695 Kb)

Although this page is focused on people looking for a care home for a family member or friend, you could be looking for a care home for yourself. If this is the case, it’s just as important to think about what you want when you move to a care home. And if possible, talk to family, friends or a carer to help focus your thoughts.

2. Make a shortlist of suitable care homes 

Use our care services directory to find suitable care homes in your chosen area. You can filter for residential homes or nursing homes as well as looking for those homes that offer more specialist support, such as for those with dementia care or physical disabilities. 


We give information for all registered care homes in the UK, which includes contact details and, in England and Scotland, the inspection ratings and a link to the latest inspection report from the care regulators.


Where a care home has a website, we also give you a link to it. It’s always worth spending some time browsing the websites to get more of a feel for the homes as you think about which ones you’re going shortlist.

Use our directory to find local residential and nursing care homes across the UK.

If your loved one may be approaching the end of their life, find out whether the care home can provide suitable palliative care. For the key questions to consider if choosing a care home for palliative care, read the section on care homes in our palliative care article.

My aim was to make her as content and happy as I possibly could for the time she had left.

3. Ask friends and family for recommendations

Does anyone that you know have a relative or friend who is already in a care home or has recently lived in one? A recommendation from a happy resident is worth its weight in gold.

4. Read the care home inspection reports

In the UK, there are four watchdogs charged with inspecting and reporting on care providers. The reports are publicly available and give valuable insight into how well a home is managed and the level of care they offer.


In England and Scotland, the care regulators also rate the care providers. The regulators in Northern Ireland and Wales don’t rate the providers they inspect.


You can also use the reports to see if:

  • points raised by inspectors have been addressed or whether they reappear on subsequent reports
  • high staff turnover is mentioned, which could indicate unsettled, unhappy staff
  • inspections have occurred frequently, which may be a sign of problems.

Find out more about the regulators and their reports in our article about quality and regulation of care providers.


5. Contact suitable care homes

Contact your shortlisted care homes and talk specifics from the first phone call. Discuss how the home can meet your loved one’s needs directly with the manager of the home. Ask the home to be upfront about the fees, too, even if they’re reluctant. This will help you to avoid wasted visits. They will want to know if your loved one is self-funding, local authority funded or a mixture. It could be that you don’t know this yet, in which case explain the situation. 

Also enquire about availability of places. Finding out about cost and room availability, will help you eliminate any homes that aren’t suitable either because they are out of your price range or are lacking spaces. 

Ask them to send you written details of costs together with a brochure, check who you’re meeting (this should preferably be the care home manager) and confirm the appointment before you set off.

6. Visit the care homes

It’s important to visit all the homes on your shortlist to get as much information as you can. 


Now is the time to consider what’s important, ranging from practical issues, such as the social activities on offer, through to questions about the care home contract, your family member’s potential room, and what else happens in and around the home. 


If possible, visit the care homes with the person you are caring for, but if that’s not possible, go with another family member or friend. If your loved one is unable to visit, ask a representative from the home to visit them to assess their needs face to face.


For more detail about what to think about and ask when visiting care homes, read our article on the subject.



7. Get a needs assessment

At the same time as exploring residential care options, it’s important to ensure the person you’re caring for gets a free needs assessment from their local council’s adult social care department. It’s especially vital if you think they might need financial help from the local authority, as councils will only fund care when someone has been assessed as needing it.

Even if you think your loved one will end up paying for their own care, it’s still worth getting a needs assessment. It provides a professional assessment of the type of care and support that’s needed, which will help you choose a suitable care home. It may also highlight other care options that you might not have considered.

Downloadable checklist: Questions to ask when choosing a care home

Checklist: Questions to ask when choosing a care home
(pdf 695 Kb)
Real-life stories
Pam's story
Choosing a care home for a loved one is never an easy decision, read Pam’s story about how she went about finding the ...
Use our calculator to find out the cost of a care home in your area and what financial support is available.

Further reading

Last updated: 26 May 2021