What is a home care agency?

Home care agencies employ care workers and arrange for them to visit you to provide care services. You could get help with:

  • eating and drinking
  • bathing and personal hygiene
  • getting in and out of bed
  • getting dressed and undressed
  • taking medication
  • doing your weekly shopping or collecting prescriptions
  • getting out and about, such as going to a lunch club or going to appointments.

Some home care agencies also provide nursing care to people in their own homes. Any nursing care must be carried out, or planned or supervised, by a registered nurse.

All home care agencies must register with the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates and inspects them. The CQC only registers a home care agency if it meets their minimum standards. These requirements do not apply to employment agencies that help you find self-employed nurses and care workers.

Getting a care needs assessment

If you think you need some help, the first step is to get a free care needs assessment from your local council. This looks at what your needs are and whether these needs qualify for help from the council. Find out more on Getting a care needs assessment.

Even if you’re going to organise your own care directly with an agency, it’s a good idea to get an assessment first so you can explain to the agency what support you need.

It may also be useful to ask for occupational therapy to be involved in your assessment. They look at any difficulties you have around your home. They might recommend disability equipment or an adaptation to your home that could make life easier.

Support with a care needs assessment

You can have a friend, relative or an independent advocate with you during the assessment. Let the council know you want this when you make the arrangements.

The council must provide you with an independent advocate in some circumstances. Read more on Independent advocacy.

Paying for home care

If your care needs qualify for council support, you’ll have a separate financial assessment. This works out whether you can get help with care costs by looking at your:

  • income, such as pensions or benefits
  • capital, such as savings or investments.

It won't include the value of your home if you own it. Read more about Paying for care services at home.

If you do not qualify for financial support

If you don't qualify for financial support, there are lots of ways to pay for your care. Visit Paying for care yourself for more information.

Even if you’re paying for your own care, you can ask the council to arrange care for you. They may charge an arrangement fee for doing this.

If you do qualify for financial support

If you qualify for financial support, the council should tell you how much they think it will cost to meet your needs. This is called your personal budget. You can let the council manage this money and organise care services for you. Or you can control your own budget and choose a home care agency yourself.

Find out more about ways to use your personal budget.

Getting disability benefits

Check if you're entitled to Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment. These benefits aren’t means-tested – an award is based only on your care needs.

Even if you’re receiving disability benefits, it’s still worth getting a care needs assessment from your local council. Some parts of these benefits can be counted as income in the council’s financial assessment, but you could use any leftover money to pay for extra services.

Try our benefits calculator to see what you could claim.

For more information, read our factsheet Getting a financial assessment for care at home.

How to find a home care agency

You can find home care agencies in your area through:

  • your local council – ask for a list or check if they have an online directory
  • the CQC – search online or ask for a list of home care agencies
  • the NHS website
  • the United Kingdom Home Care Association. These agencies agree to meet certain quality standards to become members.

What to look for in a home care agency

When choosing a home care agency, you may want to check:

  • their ‘statement of purpose’ which includes their aims and objectives, who their service is for and the type of services they provide
  • what policies and procedures they have in place to protect you and their staff
  • whether their staff have Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. This shows if they have a criminal record or any police cautions that would make them unsuitable for home care work.

Visit the CQC website for more information about what to expect from a good home care agency. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has a list of six quality statements which can also give you an idea of what you should expect.

Our factsheet Arranging home care has a checklist of questions you may wish to ask.

How your care will be organised

Once you’ve chosen a home care agency, they must carry out an assessment and work with you to produce a care plan. This should match with the council’s care needs assessment if you’ve had one.

They should also give you:

  • a written contract
  • a clear price list, with details of what’s included in the basic charge and any extras
  • information about how to end the contract, if necessary
  • a copy of their complaints procedure.

They should keep you informed about any issues related to your care.

The agency staff must keep a written record of all the care they provide, including medication they give you, changes in your health or any accidents. You should be able to see these records if you want to – ask the agency how you can do this.

Timesheets

You may be asked to sign timesheets. Make sure the time has been recorded accurately, and don’t sign any timesheets in advance or you may be charged for care you haven’t received. You should receive an invoice charging you for the amount of care you’ve had in the previous month.

Many home care agencies use an electronic monitoring system, which records when care staff enter and leave your home. The care worker may need to use your phone for this, but you won’t be charged for the calls.

If you’re unhappy with your home care agency

If something goes wrong – for example, your care is rushed or the care worker is late or doesn’t turn up – first try to raise your concerns. You can do this with adult social services if your care was organised by the council, or the manager of the agency.

If you’re still unhappy, you can make make a formal complaint. If you need advice about this, call our Helpline and arrange to speak to an adviser.

Next steps

Arrange a care needs assessment with your local council.

Search for home care agencies in your area on the CQC or NHS website.

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