Respite care is a short-term change in caring arrangements to give a primary carer, such as a family member, a break.

In this section you will find:

  • What is respite care?
  • Sourcing respite care
  • Precautions

What is respite care?

Short-term move. Respite care is usually planned, with a series of (for example) week-long breaks provided throughout the year.

Stress. Respite care is vital. Caring can be stressful and tiring and without breaks a carer can fall ill. Such breaks can also benefit those who are cared for. In well planned arrangements, respite care can offer fresh social contact, a welcome change of surroundings and access to services not always available at home.

Residential care. Respite care is often provided in residential care homes where the majority of the residents will occupy permanent places. There are also some specialist respite care providers available.

Living in. Respite care can also take the form of someone, perhaps a family member or a carer from a private agency, living in and replacing the usual carer.

Day care centres. Services offered in day care centres may also provide respite for carers and those for whom they care. These centres provide opportunities for older people to participate in activities and to receive personal care services. Some have specialist facilities or specific days for people with certain illnesses or conditions such as dementia.

Day care centres are run by local authority social services or private and voluntary organisations. Some provide a minibus or taxi service to pick people up and many provide lunch, often at a small extra cost.

Day trips.  Respite care can include regular trips out to the cinema for an afternoon, for example. Many voluntary organisations run befriending schemes, where volunteers will take people out on an excursion. While this may only be for a few hours a week, it can make a significant difference for the carer and provide important social contact for the person cared for.

Sitting service. A sitting service at your home is also provided by some local authorities and charities. Here, people with a background in caring visit to provide companionship and basic personal care, and participate in various pastimes.

Sourcing respite care

Care assessment. The first step to receive respite care is to approach your local authority for a care assessment. The social worker doing the assessment will consider your needs and those of the carer – including their wish to work, do training or leisure activities – before deciding what (if any) services the local authority will provide.

Where you live. The amount of service agreed will vary depending on the area in which you live. Each authority has its own eligibility criteria and budgets. With many authorities running on tight finances, some are focusing only on those with critical or substantial needs. Individual services, such as day care centres and companionship, will also have their own criteria for deciding who qualifies for a placement and all this will need to be taken into account when planning a respite arrangement.

Financial assessments.  To receive respite care you will also need to have a financial assessment. This will determine what, if any, charges you will have to meet. Sometimes respite care is included as part of a larger care package of other services, such as home care and meals on wheels.

Advanced planning. Make sure you plan any respite care that involves a residential home well in advance; places can be limited.

Home care agencies. Home care agencies can also find people to provide respite care, but these may prove to be more expensive.


Do the research. Any residential care home that provides respite care should be thoroughly researched before you go there. Visit it beforehand to ensure it is suitable and it can cater for any special needs, and look at its most recent report published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Care agency. The same rule applies if a care agency is being brought in to take over from the usual carer. Ensure the company is reputable and, if necessary, ask to speak to other clients about their experiences – a good provider will not mind such a request.

Dementia. For anyone with dementia, a move into respite care can be disorientating and it can take them some time to settle down once there. To make life comfortable, make sure they have familiar items around them to minimise any potential distress. It can also take time for dementia sufferers to settle down after returning home.