Social care, also known as community care, helps people with long-term health conditions or disability to live as well as possible. Social care may be provided in your own home, in a residential care home or by organising respite breaks away from home for a few hours or days. You can read more about the range of social care services available on the NHS Choices website. Accessing social care is slightly different in the four countries of the UK and is likely to change as the government brings in closer integration of health and social care.

Your rights and choices are set out in the government’s Adult social care choice framework. If you're having problems getting the support that is right for you, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.

Care and support at home

You may be able to obtain support and care in your own home through your local council. This is sometimes called domicillary care. Sometimes the council will pay for all of your care needs, and sometimes you’ll need to contribute to this. Assistance can improve your quality of life and allow you to continue living in your own home. Social care may include help with:

  • washing, dressing, preparing meals, eating
  • cleaning, shopping
  • going to the toilet
  • equipment and adaptations, such as a stair lift or a downstairs bathroom
  • getting to a day centre to give you, or the person who cares for you, a break
  • day care for your child if you are disabled

To access care, you need to contact the adult social services department of your  local council (usually the county council or equivalent authority) and ask them to carry out an assessment of your needs. In Northern Ireland, it would be your local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust. A relative, friend or carer can ask on your behalf. The social worker will discuss your situation with you and what you’d like to achieve. The council must carry out an assessment if you appear to need care even if you will not be eligible for funding from them.

If you’re eligible for support from the council, you’ll be given a care plan outlining the help you can receive. You will also be given the option of arranging and paying for your own care. The council will give you money to do this, known as direct payments or a personal budget.

If you do not qualify for local authority support, you can arrange your own care. This allows you more choice and control over the arrangements. You could use the results of your needs assessment to decide what amount and type of care would suit you best.


Sometimes you or your carer may need a break for a few days. Respite care can be provided as short-term residential care in a residential home, in a holiday location or sometimes within your own home.

Read more about respite in the A-Z of MS

Residential care

For some people, a move to ‘extra care’ housing schemes or warden-controlled sheltered accommodation works well. These offer an increased level of care and support but it’s possible to retain a high level of independence. They may be provided by the local council, through housing associations or privately.

Some people’s needs are best met by residential care. The majority of residential care accommodation is for older people, but there are homes that cater to the needs of younger people with a disability. Some care homes are privately owned but others are run by councils or charities. At some residential homes, nursing care is offered if you need it. As for other types of care, how much you will pay depends on your personal and financial circumstances.

Read more about care homes on the NHS Choices website

These charities provide care homes and other services for people below retirement age:

Sue Ryder

Leonard Cheshire

Inspection agencies

Care homes and home care agencies are regularly inspected to make sure they comply with nationally agreed standards. On the websites of the inspection agencies, you can locate registered services within a defined area and also find the agency’s reports about individual services. This can help you find a reliable care provider.

England - Care Quality Commission (CQC)

Wales - Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW)

Scotland - Care Inspectorate 

Northern Ireland - Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA)

Further information and support

Citizen’s Advice Bureau guides to social care and support:




Northern Ireland

Find me good care is a website that provides information on finding and paying for care and a directory of providers.

Money Advice Service offers free and impartial advice, including choosing and paying for care.

Disability Rights UK supports disabled people and those living with health conditions.

Age UK are dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life. Although written for older people, the online information and publications may be helpful at any age.

Independent Age offer a helpline and advice for older people.

Last updated: 15 September 2015
This page will be reviewed within three years