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Home & garden.

17 November 2021

How to choose a home care agency

If you’re searching for care at home, use our step-by-step guide and checklist to find the best care provider for your needs.
W
Which?Editorial team

Choosing the right home care provider

Some of the challenges involved in setting up care at home include:

  • Working out what type of support is needed      
  • Choosing the right company or individual to provide the care      
  • Finding carers who are compatible with the person who needs help      
  • Getting to grips with complicated fees and charges.  

This guide will help you select the most suitable care provider for your needs.

Five steps to choosing a home care provider

1. Decide what type of home care you need

One of the most popular ways to arrange home care is through a domiciliary care agency. These companies provide professional care staff and will take care of all the arrangements for you. If opting for an agency, look for one that can provide care that’s tailored to your needs. For example, are you looking for help with eating and dressing for a few hours a week or do you need 24-hour live-in care? Also consider whether an agency will be able to adapt if your needs change in the future.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to keep more control over arrangements, you could choose to hire a private carer or personal assistant. But be aware that this may mean taking on the responsibilities of an employer. 

Before deciding how much professional care is needed, think about whether this could be supplemented with support from family members or friends, or with other less expensive kinds of help around the home, such as a cleaner, gardener or companion. Also consider whether there are any home adaptations or useful gadgets that could help to support your or a loved one’s independence. This could affect how much professional home care is required.

Read more about the different options to consider when arranging care at home.

2. Make a list of what you want from a care service

Before you commit to a provider, gather as much information as possible about your requirements so you can compare providers and choose the right one for you.

Consider these key questions first:

  • What specific activities do you need help with?      
  • How often do you want them to visit?      
  • What time do you want them to visit?      
  • How many hours a day/week can you afford to have help for?  

3. Make a list of local care agencies that meet your needs

Ask friends and family if they have used any local care providers who they would recommend. You can also ask your local authority’s social care team, a GP or another healthcare professional for recommendations.

There are various online directories that enable you to search for nearby care providers. For example, you can find lists of home care agencies and other care services across the UK on the HousingCare website, operated by the national charity Elderly Accommodation Counsel. There are also commercial websites that help you search for home care providers, such as homecare.co.uk and Care Sourcer (England and Scotland only). You can use these services free of charge, but be aware that these sites allow care providers to pay to have their their service promoted more prominently.

4. Check the ratings and make a shortlist

All domiciliary care providers should be registered with one of the UK’s care regulators. The regulators monitor and inspect services to make sure appropriate standards of quality and safety are met. You can download the inspection reports from the regulators’ websites.

Also check whether the agency is a member of the Homecare Association, which has a code of practice to ensure that high standards of care are provided.

Make a shortlist of agencies that look like they could meet your needs. 

5. Contact the agencies on your shortlist

Arrange to meet with staff, preferably at your home. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as this is your opportunity to find out what you need to know. If you can, ask a family member or friend to join you to help keep track of everything that’s discussed. 

Use our checklists to prepare for your meeting with a home care agency.

Questions to ask a home care agency

Make a note of the following questions that matter most for your circumstances. 

Questions about the carers

  • How do you recruit your care staff?       
  • Do you check references before offering them work?       
  • Do they undergo a criminal records check, such as a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check?       
  • What qualifications and experience do the carers have? For example, do they have a Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) qualification in lifting and manual handling?
  • Are they qualified to deal with specialist conditions, such as dementia or mobility issues?
  • Does the agency have a high turnover of carers? A high staff turnover might suggest that staff aren’t happy with their employment.       
  • Is it possible to meet potential carers in advance?  

Questions about your needs

  • What services do you provide? Are there any specific services you don’t provide?
  • Do you currently provide care for people with similar needs to mine?
  • Will you carry out an assessment of my needs and draw up a personalised care plan?
  • How will you ensure that carers follow the care plan?
  • How will you match the most suitable carers to my needs?
  • Will I have a regular carer or carers? If I’m incompatible with a carer, can I request a different person?
  • Will carers keep records of the care that has been given, including timesheets for visits? Can I access these records if I want them? Some agencies keep records online so that family members can have instant access to them.

Questions about the care visits

  • Can you provide carers at the times I need help?
  • What happens if I need to increase the number or duration of visits in future? Will this be possible?
  • How many different carers are likely to visit on a regular basis?
  • What will happen if my main carer is off sick or on holiday?
  • How will carers get into my home if I can’t answer the door?
  • What happens in the event of a medical emergency? Will the carer stay with me until help comes?

Questions about charges and T&Cs

  • Do you have a standard contract? Can I see a copy in advance?
  • What are your hourly charges? And what do they cover?
  • Do charges depend on the level of care that is needed?     
  • Do prices vary depending on the time of day?
  • Are there higher charges for weekends and bank holidays?
  • Are there any other extra charges I need to know about, such as travel expenses or call-out fees?
  • Is there a minimum charge for people who only need a small amount of support?
  • How often is payment required and what payment methods are accepted?
  • Will I have to pay a deposit or make any payments in advance?
  • When can prices be increased and by how much?
  • How much notice is required if I need to cancel or change a visit and will there be a fee?
  • What happens if I have to go into hospital for a period of time? Will I still be charged for scheduled home visits while I’m in hospital?
  • Is it possible to arrange a short trial period to see how it works out?
  • How do I terminate the service? How much notice is required?

Read more about paying for care at home, including the different ways it can be funded.

Questions about the care agency

  • How long has the agency been in business?
  • Are you registered with the relevant care regulator? When was your last inspection?
  • Are you a member of the Homecare Association? Have you signed up to its Code of Practice?
  • How do I complain if I’m not happy?
  • Who will be the main contact person if I need information or have a question?
  • Do you have insurance to cover accidents or damage to property, for example?

Does the agency have procedures in place to:

  • Ensure the quality of care is maintained?
  • Protect me from accidents, neglect or self-harm?
  • Make sure staff respect my privacy and dignity?
  • Cover the way staff handle my money or belongings?

The questions that a home care agency should ask you

The agency should carry out their own assessment before drawing up a care plan. They are likely to look at:

  • Your care needs, and details of any medical conditions and medication
  • Your ability to see, hear and communicate
  • Any problems with continence or mobility and any equipment you use
  • Any dietary requirements or preferences
  • Your religious and cultural needs
  • Your mental capacity and whether you are able to make decisions about your care
  • Who else is involved in supporting you and does anyone else have authority to make decisions on your behalf, for example if they hold Power of Attorney
  • Whether you pose a risk to yourself or others by living at home, and the safety of carers visiting your home
  • Arrangements for getting access to your home.

If an agency doesn’t carry out an assessment that covers these areas, you should ask them to do so.

Download the checklist

There is a file available for download. (512 KB). This file is available for download at .