How is respite care arranged in Northern Ireland?

You can arrange respite care through your Health and Social Care (HSC) trust or you can contact a personal assistant, homecare agency or care home directly. 

Arranging respite care through the HSC trust 

Your HSC trust is responsible for helping you to find different types of respite care. They will work out how they can support you and the person you care for by assessing your care and support needs.

Assessments and reviews

If you have an assessment this is a ‘carer’s assessment’. If the person with dementia has an assessment this will be a ‘health and social care assessment’. To request an assessment you, the person with dementia, or a professional (for example, your GP) should contact your HSC trust.

During the assessment, the trust will work out what care and support needs you both have. If you meet certain criteria, a social worker will discuss with you, and the person with dementia, how you want these needs to be met and what options are available – including different types of respite care

It is important that both you and the person with dementia have your care and support needs assessed if possible. You can have a joint assessment (if you both consent to this) or separate assessments.

If your needs change you should ask for a reassessment, also known as a review. This will show whether your or the person’s needs have changed and may lead to extra care and support being provided, including respite care. 

What happens after an assessment?

The HSC trust may provide the person with dementia with respite care, but the person may be asked to contribute towards the cost. The HSC trust can charge them for short stays in care homes (of under eight weeks) in one of two ways. They can either:

  • assess the amount they should pay, based on their income and capital (such as property and savings) and follow national rules. Or
  • they can charge what they think is a ‘reasonable’ amount, although this should take account of individual circumstances. 

If care is provided in the person’s own home, the HSC trust can ask the person with dementia to pay ‘a reasonable amount’ towards the cost. HSC trusts can decide whether to allow direct payments to be used for respite care. Ask your local HSC trust to find out. 

If the person with dementia chooses not to have a health and social care assessment, or if they are found not to be eligible for care and support after an assessment, you can still have a carer’s assessment.

HSC trusts can provide carers with services to help maintain their health and wellbeing. This may include help with short-term care either in the person’s own home or in a care home. However, in some cases, your income may be assessed and you may be asked to contribute towards the cost of care.

The HSC trust must provide clear information and advice about the services available in your area, and how you can access them. This information should be given for free from the beginning of this process.

If you feel that the trust is not supporting you appropriately in your caring role, or not providing you with the information you need, you can make a complaint. Ask them for a copy of their complaints process. 

Arranging respite care yourself 

If you choose to arrange respite care without any help from the HSC trust, it is your responsibility to find and arrange the care, whether it is at home or in a care home. If you are paying for a personal assistant or a carer from a homecare agency, check that they can provide respite care in a way that meets the person’s needs. This could be for a few hours a day, a series of regular visits (for example a few times a day) or 24-hour support at home. 

The person with dementia can still have a health and social care assessment even if they are paying for the care themselves. This will help to establish what kind of care they need. 

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) regulates all care providers in Northern Ireland, including care homes and care delivered in the person’s home. Lists of care providers and inspection reports are available. For more information see Other resources.


If you are having difficulty paying for respite care or for a holiday for the person with dementia, you may be able to get financial help from a charity. Organisations such as Turn2us can give you information and support – see Other resources.

Find support near you

There are dementia services and support groups in your area. Find out what's available where you are.