8 ways to find a carer for your elderly parent in the UK

Beginning the search for a carer for your elder parent or relative can be utterly overwhelming. It’s a daunting task that often brings with it a sense of unease. To make things worse, the UK is in the throes of a care crisis. Caring is a hard job, and many have sought better pay and more sociable working hours elsewhere, leaving a staggering number of care vacancies and a high turnover.

Even before the pandemic, the country faced a dire shortage of carers, and things have only gotten worse as carers have gone back to their home countries with no plans to return, or left because they refused the COVID-19 vaccine.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that most of us haven’t a clue where to begin the search for a carer and entrusting the care of your vulnerable mum or dad into the hands of a stranger is not easy.  Costs and financing pose additional concerns that make the whole process even more challenging and worrisome.

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As it turns out there is more than one way to look for a carer, and which route you take depends on several factors, including how urgently your parent needs care, the type of care they need and how much control and choice you want over who provides cares for them.

Assessing your parent’s care needs

Before beginning your search, it’s important to drill down exactly what type and level of care your parent needs.

Assessing your parent’s care needs is something you should take time over and involve your parent in, if they are able, as they may decide they need assistance with something you haven’t even thought of, or have certain preferences about how they receive care.

For example, do they need an experienced, skilled carer, or is it more of a companion and home help that they need? Do they need or want someone that lives-in? Do they need someone on a long- or short-term basis?

If they are vulnerable but otherwise healthy and could just use some company and help around the house a few times a week, that’s one thing. But if they have more complicated care needs, then it’s worth getting a proper care assessment from their local council if they haven’t already had one.  It’s no good employing someone who is not qualified to give injections if your parent requires daily shots of insulin because they’re diabetic.

Some key things to consider are:

  • What hours of the day or night, or both, does your parent require help?
  • Will the carer need to live-in and if so, does your parent have the correct facilities to accommodate them?
  • What tasks will you expect the carer to assist your parent with?
  • Does your parent have specialised medical needs?
  • Do they need to drive?
  • Does your parent need a bi-lingual carer?
  • Will your parent’s care needs change over time? It may be that your parent only needs temporary assistance because they’re incapacitated after an operation and needs help while they’re getting back on their feet. If they have a long-term illness such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, their care needs may increase over time.
  • Will you need to hire more than one carer or can someone in the family provide the back-up / respite care? No-one can work twenty-four seven and if you can’t cover a carer’s planned or impromptu time off yourself, you will need to have a reliable substitute you can turn to when needed.

Last but not least, when assessing your parent’s needs, you also need to consider what they can still do for themselves. Providing too much care can be just as damaging as providing too little, affecting self-esteem and diminishing their remaining capabilities. The least amount of intervention is often the best.

8 ways to search for a carer for your elder parent or relative

Once you’ve established your parent or elder relative’s specific needs, you then have several options for finding care depending on what these are, what your budget is, and how you and your parent prefer the carer to be employed (employed directly by you/your parent, self-employed or employed by a care provider company).

1. Word of mouth

It’s always worth beginning your search by seeking recommendations from people you trust, such as neighbours, friends, or colleagues who may have experience with carers or care companies. Personal referrals can provide valuable insights into the quality of care and the reliability of potential carers and providers.

2. Contacting the Local Council

While most councils don’t provide low-level companion care or home help, they can support with a carer if your parent has health or mobility challenges, and meets the eligibility criteria.

First, you would need to contact your parent’s local council to apply for a needs assessment, after which they will carry out a means test to assess your parent’s financial status. The threshold for funding is low though – if your parent or elder relative lives in England and has savings or assets worth more than £23,250, they have to pay the full cost of their own care.

Even if your parent is not eligible for any financial support from the council to pay for care, they can still give you free advice and connect you with care services in the local area.

3. Using a Home Care Provider

A professional home care provider company (also known as a Home Care Agency) offers comprehensive care services. These companies have a roster of trained and vetted carers, who are employed directly by the company and provide a variety of different levels of care.

Care provider companies are CQC rated, which means they are assessed and regulated by the Care Quality Commission to ensure that they meet required standards for quality and safety in providing care service.

Typically, one of the company’s care managers will work with you to understand your parent’s needs and wishes, develop a care plan and find a suitable carer with the appropriate experience for them.

You can check a company’s CQC rating here, and look for high-standard providers in your parent’s local area on the UK Home Care Association (UKHCA) website here.  Your parent’s GP may also be able to direct you to recommended local providers.

4. Using an Introductory Care Agency

Introductory agencies specialise in connecting people with suitable self-employed carers in their area. These agencies typically screen and carry out relevant background checks before adding carers on their books, and will help you find one that is suitable for your parent based on their personality and needs (for example, try Curamcare.com).

Agencies charge fees for their services, which can vary a lot and be as much as 20% of the carer’s fee.  However, some are now tech-enabled using technology that is similar to online dating and consumer review websites, allowing them to charge much lower fees.

5.Using an App-based Companion Service

A relatively new concept, these services are mostly focused on ‘quality of life’ care, providing home help support and companionship to people who are lonely and could use help getting out and about more. Customers get the same ‘helper’ or companion, usually young people and students who do this part time, who visit 1 – 3 times a week.

These services, including Gubbe and Companiions, are generally only available in and around major cities, and subscriptions are increasingly offered by corporations as an employee benefit.

6. Advertising

If you want to hire and employ a carer privately to potentially save money and have more control, you can advertise for one, either by posting an advert on the bulletin board of a local community centre or newsagent, creating an ad on a professional services platform (like Bark.com) or placing an ad in the classifieds of a local newspaper or relevant magazine like The Lady.

Be prepared to thoroughly screen, conduct background checks and interview candidates if you go through this route. And be mindful of your responsibilities and legal obligations if you employ someone privately (i.e. if they are not self-employed).

7. Using a HomeShare Service

If your parent or elderly relative doesn’t need specialised care, but is more in need of company, someone to keep an eye on them and help with light domestic tasks, you might want to investigate home sharing.

Companies like HomeShare UK and Helpful Housemates vet young people then match them with elderly people who need companionship and help around the home. While the young person is not a live-in carer, they are obliged to spend a set amount of hours a week helping with chores and providing company to their host in return for reduced rent for a room in their home.

8. Contacting Age UK

Age UK offers home care services for older people in certain areas of the UK. Their trained carers can help people with daily tasks such as washing, dressing and bathing, either at agreed times of day or in some cases over a 24-hour period.

You can check your parent’s local Age UK to find out if this is available in their area here and if so, what they charge (this service is not free – they charge an hourly rate). Their services are regulated by the CQC (Care Quality Commission) and you check their CQC inspection reports at www.cqc.org.uk.

Choosing the right carer

If your parent or elder relative needs a carer urgently, you will likely need to use a home care agency and won’t have the option or time to interview your parent’s carer beforehand.

But if you have the luxury of time and want to hire a private carer that’s a good fit on a longer-term basis, make sure you properly prepare for interviewing the carer to reduce your chances of having to repeat the search process again after just a couple of weeks!

In summary

There is more than one route to find a carer for an elderly parent, and which option you go for really depends on time, budget and the type and level of care needed.  

It’s worth noting that if they are coming out of a stay in an NHS hospital, following surgery or a health emergency, and need help while they recover and recuperate, you should check with the hospital team about getting an assessment for NHS Continuing Health Care (free care, funded by the NHS, provided to individuals who have significant and ongoing healthcare needs following discharge from hospital).

Common questions

  • How much does a carer cost per hour in the UK?

The hourly cost of in-home care in the UK can vary based on the recipient’s location and care needs. However, you can expect to pay an average hourly rate of between £18 to £30 per hour.

  • How much does 24-hour live-in care cost in the UK?

The cost of live-in care in the UK varies depending on location and what’s included in a person’s care package, but you can expect fees to be in the region of £800 to £1,500 a week or, in some cases, £2,000 per week if nursing care is required.

  • Is it cheaper to employ a live-in carer directly instead of via an agency?

It may be, but you need to keep in mind there will be additional expenses on top of the carer’s wage. As an employer you will also need to pay tax and National Insurance, unless the carer is self-employed.

  • How do I employ a private carer?

It depends. If the carer is self-employed, and you find them through an introductory agency, it is relatively straightforward. But if they are not, whoever pays their salary will effectively be their employer so you need to make sure you put an employment contract in place and be mindful of your responsibilities and legal obligations, including minimum wage rates, national insurance, holiday entitlement, and working time regulations. You should also make sure you conduct criminal record checks and have relevant insurance in place before hiring anyone privately.

  • Is there still a shortage of carers in the UK?            

Yes. One report suggests that just under 10% of home care roles are unfilled, which equates to a shortage of around 150,000 carers. Care workers were added to the UK Government’s Shortage Occupation List in February 2022 and this has opened a route for people to immigrate into the UK into this role, if they meet the points-based criteria.

  • What are carers not allowed to do?

A carer cannot give injections, dress wounds, administer medication without consent or perform any other regulated activity as deemed by the CQC (Care Quality Commission). These types of activities can only be done by a qualified healthcare professional.

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