When looking for a residential care home or nursing home, you want to know that it can provide a high standard of care and that it is being regularly inspected.

A care home’s CQC rating can tell you whether its service is deemed to be outstanding, good, requires improvement or is inadequate. This guide explains more about the role of the CQC, how they inspect and rate care homes, and how these ratings can help you to compare services and make choices about care.

What is the CQC?

The CQC (which stands for Care Quality Commission) is the independent regulator of all care providers within England. Its main role is to ensure that all hospitals, GP clinics, care homes, dentists, community care and domiciliary care services are providing people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care.

All care providers operating within England must register with the CQC.

What does the CQC do?

The CQC carries out regular comprehensive inspections of the standards of all care providers.

A CQC inspection will include:

  • An unannounced in-person visit to the care home 
  • A review of the care home’s care records
  • Gathering feedback from the care home’s residents
  • Gathering feedback from staff who work for the care home

During the inspection the care homes’s standards are reviewed across five key questions:

Key question


Are they safe?

Safe: you are protected from abuse and avoidable harm

Are they effective?

Effective: your care, treatment and support achieves good outcomes, helps you to maintain quality of life and is based on the best available evidence

Are they caring?

Caring: staff involve and treat you with compassion, kindness, dignity and respect

Are they responsive to people’s needs?

Responsive: services are organised so that they meet your needs

Are they well-led?

Well-led: the leadership, management and governance of the organisation make sure it’s providing high-quality care that’s based around your individual needs, that it encourages learning and innovation, and that it promotes an open and fair culture

The CQC has a guide to show what a good care home looks like, to help you to make informed choices about your care: https://www.cqc.org.uk/help-advice/what-expect-good-care-services/what-can-you-expect-good-care-home 

How often does the CQC inspect care homes?

CQC inspectors aim to inspect all new services within 6-12 months, however this can be dependent on their workload.

Care homes remain ungraded until their first inspection, but this does not necessarily mean they are providing poor or unsafe care. In between inspections the CQC continuously monitor the standards of providers and follows up on any incidents, safety issues or complaints.

Understanding CQC ratings for care homes

After reviewing their findings, the CQC will grade the care provider against each of the five key questions above. The four possible grades are:




The care provider is performing exceptionally well.  


The care provider is performing well and meeting expectations.

Requires Improvement

The care provider is not performing as well as it should and the CQC has provided guidance on how it could improve.


The care provider is performing badly and the CQC has taken steps against those who are running it.

The care home’s inspection report containing the overall grade is published on the CQC website. It will outline evidence of what the care home is doing well or areas in which they need to improve. The report will also detail how the care home is performing across each of the five key questions.

The care home has the opportunity to dispute any of the findings of the CQC and ask for a review of the rating.

If the CQC finds that a care home is providing inadequate care to clients they have an enforcement policy to help them protect those receiving care. They can issue warning notices which require the care provider to present an action plan showing how they are going to improve. If the findings are more serious then the CQC can suspend or cancel a care home’s registration.

How the CQC can help when you’re looking for a care home

Choosing a care home or nursing home is a big decision and there’s a lot of information to take into account, which can sometimes be confusing.

Reviewing the official CQC report on the CQC website provides an independent professional review of the care home or nursing home, which can help you to compare services.

If a care home has ratings that are less that ‘good’ (for example ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’) bear in mind that the CQC will be closely monitoring this area and scrutinising it to check that improvements are made. The CQC report will also detail any action being taken to improve the service.

Bear in mind that care homes are ungraded whilst waiting for their first inspection  and it’s also important to remember that care homes can go a year or more between inspections and a lot can change during this time.

Aside from reviewing the CQC rating, here’s some other ways to help you decide:

  • Talk to each care home about what’s most important to you. It’s crucial that you are getting the kind of care that you want, and if you discuss your priorities with each home then you can get a clearer idea of how exactly they can support you 
  • Ask to visit and meet some of the staff
  • Ask the care home for any testimonials and reviews about their service.  You can also search Google for reviews about the home.

Are you looking for a care home?

If you’re considering a care home or nursing home, we can help you.

Care Sourcer shows you details of all types of social care services, including care homes and nursing homes, in a searchable online directory of local care agencies

If you need care urgently, our team of UK care experts are also available by telephone on freephone 0800 048 8618 to guide you through the process.