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Receiving care in later life: what are the options?

Posted on 11/09/2017

Thinking about care and support for yourself or for a loved one can be overwhelming. There has been a lot in the news about the care system, and it’s not exactly painting the most positive of pictures. But the fact is that life expectancy is rising and the majority of us will need some level of care at some point in our lives.

Paying for care is the first hurdle to cross. Your local authority is responsible for ensuring that your care needs are being met, but unfortunately, this is not the same thing as funding your care requirements. In order to receive Council-funded care, you will need to meet their requirements for ‘significant need’. What constitutes a significantly serious need can vary from authority to authority, but they will carry out an assessment to ascertain what help you need.

If your care needs do not meet the local authority’s requirements, then they can still offer you guidance, support and help to find services in your local area. However, it is down to you to decide what help you want, arrange for it and to pay for it yourself.

If your need for care is more significant, the council may deem you eligible for help from the state. They may pay some or all your care fees, depending on your personal assets based on a means test. They can also provide a care worker, or you can opt to receive a direct payment and arrange your own care. Our Funding Checker can help you to determine whether you may be eligible for council funding. Council funding will only get you the basic level of support that you require, so if you can afford to, you may need to ‘top up’ to receive a better choice of services.

There are three main ways of receiving care, regardless of how it is paid for: 

Paid Carers

Hiring a paid carer is a popular option for older people, particularly those with less serious needs. A paid carer comes to your home to enable you to remain independent for as long as possible, helping with daily care tasks. Home carers can be provided through a care agency (which is the likely route if the council is arranging care). The advantage here is that you don’t have to do anything in terms of sorting out contracts or being responsible as an employer – you just pay the agency and they are responsible for sending you a carer to meet your needs. However, there are negatives. For a start, you cannot be sure that you will get the same carer every time. You may see many different people, which can make it hard to build a relationship. Also, they may be limited to a certain time slot, sometimes as little as 15 minutes, which can feel rushed.

You may, instead, choose to work with an individual paid carer, rather than one from an agency. You can employ your own paid carer directly, which gives you control and choice. It can be a bit scary thinking of becoming an employer, but there is a lot of help on this topic in our Employing your own staff section. You can also choose to contract with a self-employed paid carer, who runs their own care business and has multiple clients on their books. This takes away the responsibilities of being an employer, though it isn’t quite as flexible as they are not your employee.

Cared for by family

There are many, many people who are cared for by a family member. These unpaid carers are essential to the social care system, as they save the country billions per year, which is important when the social care system is struggling financially. However, it’s not always an easy route to take. It is a lot of pressure for the family member doing the caring, especially if they have a job and children of their own to juggle. It can put strain on relationships by changing the dynamics, and it’s something that needs to be well thought out and planned to work properly. A combined package of care can be a good option, with a family member taking on some responsibilities, and getting a carer to come in for others. We have more advice in the Family carers section.

Residential care

It was once considered the norm that older people would end up in residential care, but now more and more people are opting for care at home. The majority of people want to stay at home where they feel comfortable for as long as possible, and there are plenty more options for at-home care. At-home care is also cheaper and it means that your house doesn’t have to be used as an asset to pay for your care.

There are different levels of residential care though, and it doesn’t always have to mean going into a care home, which is intended for those who need 24-hour support. Another option could be to look at a retirement complex, where flats and houses can be owned by the individual, but there are usually communal areas for company, and on-duty wardens in case of problems. Read our section on residential care options for more information    

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