Once you have made the decision to move into a care home you need to begin the process of choosing the right one for you as this can often take some time.

What to consider

It’s estimated that by 2008 pensioners will outnumber children, and most will be expected to pay something towards their own care, so clear information on the options is essential. Navigating the care-home system can be fraught with difficulties.

Informed choice

When choosing a home, you have the right to information such as costs, services and inspection results. But across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we’ve found layers of varying confusing rules that aren’t helping you get all the information you need.


Which? complained about the poor information available from care homes as part of a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading in 2003. In response, the OFT recommended homes publish clear information on contracts and prices, make inspection reports available before and during residents’ stay and supply summaries of proven complaints.

Room for improvement

But our latest research shows there’s still room for improvement. Accurate information on fees may be key to weighing up your options, but when we asked several homes for information packs, around two in five of those sent contained no clear details on costs.
Factors to Consider…

The right location

Finding a suitable local home, let alone one that provides the right information, can be difficult enough. It’s best to focus on locations that keep links with friends, family members and interests, but you may find long waiting times and restricted lists from local authorities can hamper searching.

Check whether the home maintains minimum care standards

Lists of homes are available from several sources, including local authorities and health organisations, homes’ regulators and charities.

Good standards of care

Standards of care in homes vary, but with the right information, such as inspection reports, you can make checks. Ask as much as you can during visits, not least to ensure that the home maintains people’s dignity, and ask whether it meets minimum care standards. Asking friends who have visited people in a home may also help your decision. Ideally, potential residents should visit a short list of homes and give their own views.

Finding a home

Continue to the next page for our question guide. Just what should you be asking?

Questions you should be asking

  1. Costs and contracts
  2. What’s the weekly fee and what does it cover?
  3. What extras do residents pay for (such as TVs in rooms) and what do they cost?
  4. If more or less care is needed in future, will the home be able to provide this.
  5. How much notice should residents give if they’re moving out?
  6. How much notice must the home give if it is to close?
  7. What fees are payable if a resident is in hospital or on holiday?

Accommodation and services

  1. How is medication managed and can residents keep their own GP?
  2. Can potential residents stay for a day or a meal to see what the home’s like?
  3. Are meal times fixed and can residents prepare their own food?Are special diets catered for?
  4. Do rooms have a telephone? If not, is the phone somewhere private?
  5. Can residents go to shops, a pub or a club as they please?
  6. What personal possessions are residents allowed to bring?
  7. How is personal laundry taken care of?
  8. What activities can residents take part in?
  9. Can the home accommodate religious beliefs and cultural needs?
  10. What is the complaints procedure?Is there a residents’ committee?

Culture of care

  1. Check whether residents appear alert and occupied
  2. Is there a positive, friendly atmosphere and a clean fresh smell?\
  3. Are staff spending time talking to residents and encouraging them to do things for themselves?
  4. Do staff take time to help frail residents eat and drink?
  5. Do residents appear alert and occupied?
  6. Are there signs of depression? The charity Mind says you should check for signs of insomnia, low energy, loss of appetite, poor concentration, feelings of guilt, hopelessness or an inability to enjoy activities.
  7. Are there signs of malnutrition? Age Concern says that signs can include weight loss (more than half a stone in the last three to six months), loose clothes or jewellery and ill-fitting dentures, recurrent infections, difficulty recovering from illness or an inability to keep warm.

Problem Solving….

Read on to find out how best to go about resolving any issued you may have.

If you’re unhappy with a needs or financial assessment, independent advice is available to help with complaints.

Making a complaint

If there’s a problem with a home, speak to the manager. If you’re still unhappy, complain formally using the home’s procedures, then to the regulator if you’re still dissatisfied.

You can also complain directly to the regulator from the outset, which you may think necessary for serious issues. For concerns about the standard of health or social services, or their decision-making, take advice from agencies such as Counsel and Care or Citizens Advice

Requesting a needs reassessment

If you think the level of nursing needed has changed, or is incorrect, ask social services for a review by a nurse. Local health boards or trusts can revise eligibility criteria, which can mean reduced services, but they first must reassess needs against new eligibility criteria. Request a personal reassessment and written report..