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Questions to ask about care home contracts

Our checklists provide questions to ask about care home contracts, from deposits and fees, changes to the terms of service provision and leaving the care home.
5 min read
In this article
Deposit/advance payments Care home fees and additional charges Non-occupancy
Changing terms of service provision Leaving the care home Downloadable checklist of questions to ask

Deposit/advance payments

Many care homes ask for an advance payment or deposit to secure a place. However, if your loved one’s health or financial circumstances suddenly change, they may need to alter their plans and decide not to take up their place in the care home.


A good contract should clearly spell out how much deposit is due, when it must be paid and what happens if you change your mind before moving in.


Questions to ask about deposits

  • Is it necessary to pay an advance payment or deposit?
  • What happens if I change my mind before moving in? Can I get my deposit back?
  • If I do move in, will I get the deposit back or is this deducted from the care home fees?

Terms that may be unfair

Checklist (crosses)
  • Not allowing residents to cancel the contract within a specified period of time, for example, within 24 months.

  • Allowing the care home to keep all the deposit, regardless of the reason for cancellation.

Care home fees and additional charges

A good contract should clearly list all fees, as well as who is responsible for paying them and when. This should include information about ongoing care home fees, plus a clear breakdown of charges for any additional services, such as meals, laundry, personal care, television and telephone.


It’s important that residents are given sufficient notice of any increases in fees. This gives them and their families the chance to evaluate whether they’re able to meet the extra costs, and choose to put alternative plans in place if not.

Which? Legal
You can get personal advice on the terms of a care home contract from our specialist legal team.

Questions to ask about fees

  • Does the care home collect fees weekly, monthly or annually?
  • How much will I have to pay and what date are the fees due?
  • How are fees calculated?
  • What do the fees include and exclude?
  • Are fees paid in advance or arrears?How do I pay?
  • If relevant, how are NHS-funded Nursing Care payments accounted for in the fee structure?
  • How frequently are fees reviewed?
  • How much notice will I get for fee increases?
  • What are the charges for any additional services, and are residents allowed to ‘shop around’ for these services or are they tied to using those provided by the care home?

A good contract should clearly list all fees, as well as who is responsible for paying them and when.

Terms that may be unfair

Checklist (crosses)
  • Giving the care home the right to increase fees without notice or explanation.

  • Additional charges hidden in the small print or making charges for extras appear optional when they’re not.

  • Requiring residents to use expensive in-house services – such as laundry, chiropody, hairdressing and phone services – and taking away their right to choose.


If a resident is away from the home for an extended period (for example, in hospital), the contract should make it clear what fees are payable during that time. Some care homes might pass on savings – say, if they’re not having to provide meals or care during that time – whereas others may not.


Questions to ask about non-occupancy

  • What is the care home’s policy on periods of non-occupancy?
  • How long does a resident have to be absent before any reduced fees apply?What are the reduced fees and how are they calculated?
  • How long can these reduced rates last? Is there a limit to how long a resident can be absent from the care home before their contract is affected?

Terms that may be unfair

Checklist (crosses)
  • Demanding payment for additional services when residents aren’t using them (for example, because they’re in hospital).

  • Automatically terminating the contract if the resident doesn’t occupy their room for a certain amount of time.

Changing terms of service provision

Care homes may need to change the terms of service provision at times, for legitimate reasons. For example, this could be as a result of increasing fees, altering the level of care provided or availability of additional services. However, they should give residents a reasonable amount of notice for any changes and levels of care should not fall below minimum standards set by regulators of care homes in the UK


Questions to ask about these changes

  • How much notice will residents get if fees are to increase?
  • How much notice will residents get if provision of service or levels of care are going to change?

Terms that may be unfair

Checklist (crosses)
  • Allowing the provider to increase fees and additional charges without reasonable notice.

  • Allowing the provider to change the level of care provided without notice, or in a manner that falls below that which is defined in the contract.

  • Imposing an excessive financial penalty if, following a change to fees or service provision, a resident decides to cancel their contract.

Leaving the care home

There are several reasons why you or your loved one might want to cancel the contract and leave the care home. It might be that they are taken ill and their care needs change, or that their financial circumstances change and they can no longer afford the fees. This change in circumstances might happen suddenly.


A good contract should clearly explain a resident’s rights to cancel and what procedure to follow if they want to leave the care home. Both parties should be able to cancel with a reasonable amount of notice.

Questions to ask about leaving

  • Are residents tied in to the contract for a minimum period?
  • How much notice must they give if they want to leave?
  • If residents have to leave the care home, would they be entitled to a pro-rata refund of any fees already paid?
  • What happens to any deposit paid if the contract is cancelled by either party?
  • Under what circumstances might the deposit not be returned in full?
  • How much notice must the care home provider give if they want residents to leave?
  • What happens if a resident dies while living in the care home or staying in hospital?
  • After a resident’s death, how much time does their next of kin have to clear the room of personal possessions?

Terms that may be unfair

Checklist (crosses)
  • Unequal cancellation rights (for example, the care home can cancel whenever it wants, but residents are tied in for a set period of time).

  • Making a resident pay fees in full if they cancel a contract, not taking actual costs into account.

  • Allowing care homes to cancel without giving notice.Allowing care homes to cancel without giving refunds.

  • Prohibiting residents from cancelling.

  • Not allowing residents, or their families, sufficient time to clear the room of personal possessions.

Downloadable checklist of questions to ask

We have created a single downloadable checklist of all questions to ask when visiting a care home, which include these contractual terms.

Checklist for choosing a care home
(pdf 79 Kb)


Further reading

Care home contracts

We explain what should be in a good care home contract, who is involved and what to do if you spot any problems.

Visiting a care home

Prepare yourself with questions to ask when choosing a care home, find out about fees, and have a good look around.

Last updated: 16 Nov 2018