Elderly warned over rise in adverts for live-in carers

A visitor with a mask in care home
A visitor with a mask in care home

Charities have warned over the dangers of advertising for live-in carers online as the crisis engulfing the UK’s care sector drives families to search for help themselves.

The number of adverts for live-in carers has soared, while some families are bypassing agencies entirely and offering free or subsidised rent in return on online platforms in exchange for support.

But this has created a danger of exploitation in such an unregulated area, said Andrew Wallis, of anti-slavery charity Unseen. “The sheer number of online ads and employment agencies offering work for live-in carers and nannies is always going to pose a risk of exploitation for the job seeker, because the situation is so difficult to monitor or regulate,” he said.

“Conversely there is also the risk for those hiring as you may not know the circumstances behind the recruitment and potential control of the victim by exploiters.”

Jobs platform Indeed has recorded a 40pc rise in adverts for live-in carers over the last four years, while Adzuna had 20,000 between 2021 and 2022, up from fewer than 6,000 in each of the two prior years.

Charities also reported a growing number of online adverts for UK carers appearing in Poland and Hungary.

Families have also taken to rental platform SpareRoom offering free or subsidised rent in exchange for childcare. Elderly and disabled individuals also use the platform to search for flatmates who can help them around the house.

However, SpareRoom said adverts offering free rent in exchange for support were rare and it only allows them on the platform if the amount of help required does not exceed 15 hours a week of support or if the advertiser does not request “any personal or medical care”.

Free rent in exchange for housework can be an arrangement that works well for both the tenant and the elderly homeowner, however charities are concerned that some may be posting these adverts in the expectation that the candidate will provide personal care.

Caroline Abrahams of the charity Age UK said: “When older people with spare rooms connect with others looking for accommodation through a home sharing agency it can help them in terms of companionship and provide them with some useful support around the house, but it’s not a way of sourcing hands-on personal care on the cheap because that’s not part of the arrangement.”

According to a recent report by researchers at the University of Nottingham, agencies that simply “introduce” carers to clients are not required to be registered with the Care Quality Commission. The researchers found that some of these agencies were taking advantage of inexperienced migrant workers and placing them with older people with challenging needs that would usually pay more.

Helen Wildbore of the Relatives & Residents Association, a charity representing older people in need of care, said rising demand for live-in carers shows families are “losing confidence” in care homes.

“Every week our helpline hears concerns about the lack of care available, standards dropping, or outbreaks of covid or other illnesses restricting visiting,” she said.

Many families want to keep their elderly relatives at home for as long as possible if they can and will only consider a care home once their elderly relative is no longer able to live independently at home, even with the help of a carer.

Ms Wildmore said the pandemic has driven even more families away from care homes as successive outbreaks endangered residents and prevented relatives from seeing their loved ones. More than half of residential homes reported on by inspectors in 2022 were rated either inadequate or requiring improvement.

Ms Wildbore said: “The Government must act urgently to deal with the root causes of this crisis, which has been brewing for many years, to ensure basic levels of safety and quality across the board.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have increased funding for health and social care – with up to £14.1bn available for health and social care over the next two years.

“This funding increase will allow more people to access high quality care and help address challenges including waiting lists, low fee rates, and workforce pressures.

“We are also promoting careers in care by launching our annual domestic recruitment campaign and investing £15m to increase international recruitment of carers.”