When researching care services for an older person, you may see the care provider’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) rating displayed online, within the care provider’s premises or in printed brochures or leaflets. 

CQC ratings tell you whether a care provider’s 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 providers, and how these ratings can help you to compare services and make choices about care.

What is the role of 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 in-person visit to the care provider on their premises
  • A review of the care provider’s care records
  • Gathering feedback from the care provider’s clients
  • Gathering feedback from staff who work for the care provider

During the inspection the care provider’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

CQC inspection frequency

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

Care providers 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

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

The care provider 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 provider 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 provider’s registration. 

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

Choosing a care provider 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 provider, which can help you to compare services.

CQC report

If a care provider 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 providers are ungraded whilst waiting for their first inspection  and it’s also important to remember that care providers 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 provider 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 agency 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 agency for any testimonials and reviews about their service.  You can also search Google for reviews about the agency.

Are you thinking about care?

Care packages can start very small – it can be as simple as coming around and having a cup of tea and a chat, helping with the shopping, or helping to tidy up. Read more about the different care types that are available.

Care Sourcer helps you find all types of social care services, using a searchable online directory of local care agencies