Choose is a UK price comparison site, focused on helping consumers find the best deal and understand their rights.  When the editors saw the BBC programme on how Seniors Helping Seniors provides a much needed alternative to state funded care which is failing, the asked Christian to write about the elderly care options people have on a budget.

THE population is growing, and as more of us live longer, it is ageing too. In their annual report, the Care Quality Commission estimate a 49% increase in demand for publicly funded care home places for older people between 2015 and 2035.

The average cost of a care home place with nursing support is £766 per week in UK. Councils pay between £421 and £624 a week, and self-funders pay an average of between £603 and £827 a week.

And the number of self funders is on the rise, with Age UK reporting that 41% of residents in independent care homes in the UK now pay the full cost of their own care – up by a third in just 10 years.

Meanwhile there are fresh concerns about companies that deliver care in the community having to withdraw from council contracts because local authorities cannot pay sufficiently.

The impact of this pressure on care, and on already vulnerable elderly people and their families, also exacerbates the NHS’s problems: according to the National Audit Office, the gross annual cost to the NHS of older patients who no longer need acute care but cannot be discharged is £820 million.

Be prepared

So how do we ensure access to the elderly care we require, and on a budget that suits us? The key is to start looking before we need to.

Try to find the “care navigators” in the area – these are health or social care professionals whose job it is to guide people through the available private, charity and local authority options, and who will know about any specialist care available. And in addition, or if you cannot get seen by a local navigator, do your research.

Applying for any kind of funding, finding suitable providers and vacancies, making sure we understand our rights and the terms and conditions involved in accepting a place, will all have an impact on not only the older person’s quality of life but also on their – and our – finances, so decisions must not be rushed.

If there is time to plan ahead, do so. Families willing to take matters firmly into their own hands will consider at-home care for the elderly early on, and ensure they get the right level of support in place.

That means broadening opportunities for being, and staying, healthy and well. This can be done by providing respite, helping with daily living, and providing companionship for people in their own homes, and in the community before people feel critical.

This can be a game changer. Planning for solid preventative care can avoid the kind of crises that make for rushed decisions, and will help ensure that as a person’s needs progress and change, they will be met by or through advisers and carers we already know and trust.

Costs and funding

The cost of private elderly care varies depending on where we live, but easily passes £20 per hour on average in most parts of the UK.

Although many people looking at care early on will not qualify for financial help from their council, assessments for at-home care are based only on savings, investments and income, not the value of their home.

For those who do need much more help, that can make a big difference to how much they and their families will be expected to pay themselves.

The voluntary and charity services available will depend on need, location, and funding.

Care provided by charity does not always mean care is provided free – and it can often be anything but regular.

Friends, neighbours, and family caregivers who provide unpaid care for disabled, seriously ill, or older loved ones in the UK save the state £132 billion a year.

Grants and allowances for caregiving are dependent on the needs and situations of both the carer and the person being cared for – but with increased life expectancy, unpaid caregiving is neither sustainable nor fair as a long term solution.

Progressive care

But there are ways to keep the costs of care down, especially if we start early with the kind of at-home care mentioned above.

Innovators in this sector understand that nearly everyone hopes to avoid having to resort to a care home, and that avoiding that outcome makes sense to both the social and private purse.

Such providers will work hard to understand what kind of care is required and when, and to deliver what’s needed at below average costs while paying their carers above living wage.

Bear in mind that the “make do and mend” generation aren’t used to asking for help, and many older people will be reluctant to accept support before they feel they critically need it.

So look for care that supports and encourages, rather than the kind that involves doing to and doing for; if nursing is not needed, do not accept a solution that insists on providing nursing services.

The best such service providers will support other care organisations such as Age UK and the care commissioning groups. They’ll allow clients to plan well, with flat fees for weekends and holidays, and the service will be flexible.

Having found a variety of providers, seek advice from people who use them already to get an idea of how they work in practice.