Employing a care agency explained
Homecare agencies provide professional care workers who give support and assistance in people’s homes enabling them to stay living independently for longer.
Arranging care through an agency is certainly less hassle than hiring a private carer but, like everything, you have to weigh up the pros and cons and decide whether using an agency is right for your Mum or Dad.
Is the time right?
It’s never going to be an easy decision to make. There may be some resistance to the idea of having more help at home. If you struggle with the conversations, perhaps someone like the GP could assist in the process.
What do you want from a care agency?
Before you start the search for a homecare agency identify the kind of help your elderly parent needs. For example, do they need personal assistance, domestic help or companionship? Maybe a mix of these? Do they have a condition which needs to be taken into account?
When hiring a care agency, you choose how often you want the carer to visit, for how long and on which days. They type of assistance needed, tyhe budget and whether you plan to provide some of the care yourself will help you make these decisions.
Finding local homecare agencies
It’s easy to find a list of your local care providers from the NHS website by entering your parent’s postcode. From this list you will see how the agencies have been rated by their customers. You should also check their Care Quality Commission profile and the most recent reviews.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC)
The CQC is the independent regulator of health and social care in England. It investigates, monitors and reviews homecare agencies and only registeres those which meet the minimum standards.
By focusing on what really matters to people who use homecare agencies, the CQC considers these 5 questions:
- Are they safe?
- Are they effective?
- Are they caring?
- Are they responsive to people’s needs?
- Are they well -led?
The CQC regularly inspects care providers, and provides a written report available on its website. Each provider is given a rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate.
Access to a specific homecare agency’s report can be found via the CQC’s Find Services Offering Care in the Home page. The report will tell you when the agency was last inspected, who runs it, what specialisms it has and provides you with th efull description of the service as written by the CQC inspector.
United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA)
All homecare agencies should be members of the UKHCA, the processional association for homecare providers, and comply with its code of practice. Its aim is to promote high quality, sustainable care services.
You can search for membership details on their Find a Homecare Agency page.
Choosing a homecare agency
We recommend you draw up a shortlist of at least two or threee agencies who can meet the needs of your parent. Get in touch to request a brochure and price list.
To arm yourself with all the information you need before making a final decision here are some suggested questions you can ask. You should of course meet with the agency before making a commitment.
Questions to ask a homecare agency
- Can you provide the specific care my parent needs?
- Are you able to meet their personal preferences?
- Have you cared for someone with similar needs before?
- Will there be a dedicated carer? If not, how will this work?
- How do you choose the most suitable carer/carers?
- What happens if the carer is off sick or on holiday?
- How do you manage the time allocation between difference customers?
- My Mum has a very regular routine – how will the carer manage this?
- What qualifications do your staff have?
- Are the carers on contract to you or employed by you?
- Do your staff have continual training?
- Who do we contact in an emergency?
- Insurance cover? Cancellation policy?
- What notice do you require to make changes to the care, for example if Dad has to go into hospital?
If you are self-funding (paying for the care yourselves) ask to see their standard contract upfront. If the council are helping to fund and the agency is their recommendation, request a copy of the contract between the two parties.
It is worth noting that many homecare agencies are struggling to recruit staff. You may find you need to contact a number of them to find the care you need.
The cost of hiring a care agency
The cost of care at home depends on the amount of care your parent needs and why type of assistance they require. You’ll see from price lists that each agency operates different tariffs.
Most agencies are transparent with their costs, but check if they have minimum charges, if the prices stated include National Insurance contributions, travel expenses and VAT, and if some services are charged as extras.
There are 2 ways to pay for the care, either you self-fund, or your parent’s local authority will pay. Our Funding later life section will help you determine if your Mum or Dad is eligible for full or part funding and explain what you need to do next.
The agency will carry out its own care need assessment and together you can agree on your parent’s individual care plan tailored to suit their needs.
The assessment will include questions about health, medication, dietary requirements, interests, mobility issues, tasks they find difficult and communication preferences.
Try to prepare your parent as much as possible prior to the assessment so they don’t get flustered. And try to be there when the assessment takes place to make sure they don’t downplay their situation…
Advantages of hiring a homecare agency
- Continual care is guaranteed. If a carer is absent, another suitable carer will take their place.
- The agency takes on all employer responsibilities.
- If you are self-funding, the only paperwork you will get involved with is the initial contract and monthly invoice.
- Any issues with the agency can be discussed with the agency.
- You can alter the amount of care needed easily with notiece.
- You may be able to negotiate a payment holiday if your parent goes away or has a spell in hospital – best to check first.
Mum had an embarrassingly long list of things she did not want from a carer in her own home. The agency manager was very understanding but there was a fair amount of trial and error before we found people Mum was happy to have at home. Actually it was a bit of a nightmare – thank goodness for the agency though.
Disadvantages of hiring a homecare agency
- You don’t choose the carer yourself.
- As the same carer is not guaranteed every visit your parent may find this unsettling.
- The Agency Manager may not have first-hand knowledge of your parent’s situation and cannot be relied upon to ‘check-up’ on how things are going. This may be worrying if you do not live close by.
- An agency’s carer will have other people to visit. They may struggle with flexibility and not be able to stay an extra 10 minutes if needed.
- It’s more expensive than hiring a carer directly.
Dad had multiple needs and would be unable to function alone for very long. He is determined to stay at home. We live to far away to check up every day, but the agency have been amazing, coordinating all the care over a 24 hour period. I don’t know what we would do without them. There are occasional glitches but the agency are always onto them quickly.
When it comes to finding the right care for your parent there is no ‘one size fits all’. Consider all options for care in the home. And of course – care needs do change, so review things on a regular basis.
What is your experience of carers and care agencies? We would love to hear from you. If you have advice you would like to share or would like to see what experience others have had, do join the conversation in Age Space Forum.