It still comes as an unwelcome surprise to many people that care in later life is not free - regardless of how much tax and national insurance you may have paid into the system. It can be an even bigger shock to realise that care often comes at an eye-watering price.
Of course, moving into a care home is not the only option for people who need extra support in later life. There are , which can be more affordable, but the reality is that meeting the costs of care can be a major challenge.
The good news is that there are ways to get financial help - from local authority funding and state benefits to support from the NHS - but the system is notoriously complicated, especially for anyone who has no previous experience of arranging care.
To highlight some of the most important things you need to know, we asked our advisers on the Which? Money Helpline to share some of the most common questions they hear from our members about paying for care in later life.
You may have heard that only people whose wealth is below £23,350 can get financial support for care - but that threshold is just one part of how the process works.
Unlike NHS health care, which is funded by the government from general taxation, social care is the responsibility of your local authority.
Next, the council will carry out a (also known as the 'social care means test') to work out how much, if any, financial support you're eligible for. The means test looks at your savings, assets and income. Only those whose means are below a certain threshold will get the maximum financial support.
Here are some key things to know about what is, and is not, included in the means test.
It might be tempting to think about giving away some of your assets as you get older, to help you pass the means test and qualify for care funding. You might consider transferring ownership of your home to a family member, for example, or selling it to them for a nominal fee.
But it's important to understand that you can't intentionally give away assets to avoid care fees - this will be seen as a 'deliberate deprivation of assets'.
Anything that looks like a deliberate attempt to reduce your assets could be classed as deliberate deprivation, and this can have major consequences. For example, if you're deemed to have deliberately given away your home, you could end up having to pay for care but no longer having a property to fund it.
In general, the NHS is not responsible for meeting social care needs. However, in some circumstances the NHS will fund the care of people who they have assessed as having complex or unpredictable medical needs.
is a care package fully funded by the NHS for people with complex medical needs who require significant, ongoing health care outside of hospital. If you're eligible, the NHS will arrange and pay for your care - usually, but not exclusively, in a care home.
The application process is complex - it looks at an individual's specific needs rather than the condition they have - and it is notoriously difficult to qualify. But it's always worth applying if you think you may be eligible.
If you don't qualify for CHC, you might be entitled to NHS-Funded Nursing Care. This is a payment towards the cost of nursing care in a residential home for people who have been assessed as needing this level of care. From April 2021, the standard weekly rate in England is £187.60.
A is a long-term loan you can request from your local authority if you own your home and need to move into residential care. The council will pay the care home fees and they won't have to be repaid until you sell your home or after your death.
To qualify for a DPA, your savings must be below the care funding threshold. The council can charge interest on the loan, but the rates are low and set by the government.
If you're eligible, it can be a good way to put care in place without having to sell the family home, but you'll need to carry on paying any maintenance, insurance or mortgage costs on the property.
The right approach for you will depend on your personal circumstances, but here are some options to consider:
When it comes to paying for care in later life, there's no one size that fits all. How much it costs to get the right support will depend on your individual needs, financial circumstances and where you live in the UK.
To help you navigate the options, Which? has created a free step-by-step guide to paying for care in later life. The guide provides straightforward information about the different funding options, how much care typically costs and how to look for financial support.
Our money advisers can't give you regulated financial advice, but they can offer Which? members free, personalised guidance as part of their membership.
Which? members can call the helpline on 029 2267 0001, on Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.
* Care Homes for Older People, UK Market Report - LaingBuisson, January 2021