On this page
It’s most people’s preference to age gracefully in their own home and that’s certainly something to aim for.
If it’s just a few basic things you need help with, then family, friends and the local community can often be the first point of call. While getting assistance from your nearest and dearest is the cheapest option, it can’t always be relied on, especially over the long term.
So, what are the alternatives?
In-home care reforms
The government is in the process of introducing further reforms to the way it delivers subsidised in-home help. From 1 July 2025, the Support at Home program will replace the existing Home Care Packages Program. Entry level home care through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP), will transition to the new program no earlier than 1 July 2027.
There will be a single assessment system for the existing home care programs from 1 July. The aim of this is to simplify and improve access to aged care services.
Home care packages – what are they?
A home care package is a coordinated package of services delivered using a budget allocated to an individual, which is tailored to meet a person’s more complex care needs.
Services may include help with personal care such as showering, support services for cleaning and even equipment where necessary, such as walkers for mobility.
Four package levels
The packages are offered at four different levels to help meet different levels of care needs which are determined by the outcome of an aged care assessment (ACAT).
The packages are provided by a range of not-for-profit and commercial organisations using money allocated to an individual by the government.
The chosen provider hosts the package and for a fee (which comes out of the package) will manage it for you. The provider works with you to select the services and carers based on what you need to stay in your own home.
A monthly budget prepared by the provider allows you to see how much funding is available and where it’s being spent. This can help determine how to tailor the services to meet your own needs.
The annual budgets for packages are:
- Level 1 package, for basic needs: $14,366 per year
- Level 2: $22,396 per year
- Level 3: $43,763 per year
- Level 4: $64,167 per year
As well as paying for the selected services, the budget must cover the client contribution (where applicable) and administration and case management fees, which could be as high as 35%.
Depending on the case management and admin fees and the hourly rate charged by the provider, the number of hours generally works out at about:
- 2 hours per week for a level 1 package
- 2–4 hours per week for a level 2 package
- 7–10 hours per week for a level 3 package
- 10–14 hours per week for a level 4 package
Not surprisingly, the higher-level packages are the ones in highest demand and generally offer the best value for money. However, there are some other factors to consider when applying for a home care package.
Package delivery isn’t entirely free
A person may be asked to contribute in the form of a basic daily fee, which ranges from $11.22 for a level one package to $12.53 for a level 4 package.
Income-tested fees may also apply where annual income exceeds $32,331 for a single person and $25,053 a year for a member of a couple, with caps of $6,543 or $13,087 applying depending on an individual’s income.
Some providers may waive the basic daily fee if Centrelink determines there’s an income-tested fee.
Funding can take time
High demand for a government-subsidised home care package means it’s now common for anyone with approval for one to wait 6–12 months before receiving any funding.
According to the latest Home Care Packages Report there are 277,500 older Australians using home packages, with about 41,950 people waiting for one at their approved level.
This raises the question of what to do about getting help in the interim. And even if you do get a package, what if it isn’t sufficient to deliver the level of care you need to remain in your own home?
Finding other help
You may be offered a package at a lower level than you are approved for, or most people are offered support through another government-subsidised scheme, the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).
Here services are delivered at a highly subsidised rate on an ad-hoc basis by a range of providers. While it can be cheaper to use this option, it doesn’t always have the security of a home care package and generally covers basic services such as cleaning.
For many people, the year-long wait for a package or finding sufficient help means using their own income and assets to pay privately for the care they need, which can be very expensive. Estimates from one nursing agency show full-time care at home can cost about $250,000 a year, although the overall figure may vary depending on whether the care workers are enrolled nurses or care support and whether they’re required 24/7.
Private care rates vary
Rates for private care through a reputable provider vary from between $55 and $80 per hour, and more in the evenings and on weekends. Care that requires a registered nurse is more expensive. A growing alternative is to recruit carers directly, such as through online platforms like mable.com.au or careseekers.com.au.
Those needing care can choose and self-schedule workers based on their needs and preferences, including the timing of home visits. You may also be able to negotiate the rate of pay, which generally starts well below those charged by an approved provider or agency.
While employing someone directly may work out cheaper than going to a provider, it can also be more work for the family. This is especially so where rosters or replacing a worker who calls in sick come into play.
If help is needed and you can afford it, then the surest way of remaining in your own home is to pay privately for the services you need until the package is allocated.
It will be a bit like a bonus when the package eventually does come through and you get more hours that you don’t have to pay for.