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Social care jargon buster

A directory of Plain English definitions of commonly used words and phrases in health and social care.

Some of the most commonly used social care words and phrases and what they mean.



Term Definition


Harm that caused by anyone who has power over another person. This may include:

  • family members
  • friends
  • unpaid carers
  • health or social care workers

It can take various forms. This includes physical harm or neglect, and verbal, emotional or sexual abuse. Adults at risk can also be the victim of financial abuse from people they trust. Individuals or the organisation that employs them may carry out the abuse.

Adult social Care and support

Care for adults who need extra help to manage their lives and be independent. This includes:

  • older people
  • people with a disability or long-term illness
  • people with mental health problems
  • carers

Adult social care includes assessment of people’s needs. Looking at provision of services or allocation of funds. This is so you can arrange your own care and support. It includes looking at options such as:

  • residential care
  • home care
  • personal assistants
  • day services
  • the provision of aids and adaptations and personal budgets


Help to enable you to get the care and support you need that is independent of your local council. An advocate can help you express your needs and wishes. they can weigh up and make decisions about the options available to you. They can:

  • help you find services.
  • make sure procedures are followed.
  • challenge decisions made by councils or other organisations.

The advocate is there to represent your interests. They will support you to speak, or they can speak on your behalf. They do not speak for the council or any other organisation. If you wish to speak up for yourself to make your wishes heard, this is self-advocacy.

Aids and adaptations


Help to make things easier for you around the home. You may need equipment to help you to live more comfortably and independently. You may also need changes to your home to make it easier and safer to get around. Aids and adaptations include things like grab rails, ramps, walk-in showers and stair-lifts.

Assessment - See also Pre-assessment, Self-assessment

The process of working out what your needs are. A community care assessment looks at how you are managing everyday activities. These may include:

  • if you are looking after yourself
  • household tasks
  • getting out and about

If you have social care needs, you can have an assessment. Your views are central to this process.

Term Definition

Payments from the Government that you may receive. This may be because of your age, disability, income or caring responsibilities. Some benefits are universal – paid to everyone regardless of their income. Others are paid to people who have particular types of needs, regardless of their income. Others are only paid to people whose income or savings fall below a certain level. The Department of Work and Pensions pay benefits in England, not your local council.

Broker (also called ‘care navigator’) See also: Advocacy, Signposting

Someone whose job it is to give you advice and information about services in your area. You can then choose to the care and support that best meets your needs. They can also help you think about different ways that you can get support. This may be things like making arrangements with friends and family. A broker can help you think about what you need, find services and work out the cost. Local councils, voluntary organisations or private companies can provide brokerage.

Term Definition
Care plan See also: Support plan

A written plan after you have had an assessment. It sets out what your care and support needs are and how they will be met. This includes what you or anyone who cares for you will do and what services you will receive. You should have the opportunity to be fully involved in the plan and to say what your own priorities are. If you are in a care home or attend a day service, the plan for your daily care may also be called a care plan.


A person who provides unpaid support to someone who could not manage without this help. This could be to support a:

  • partner
  • family member
  • friend or neighbour who is ill, struggling or disabled

This is different from a care worker as they get paid to support people.

Care Worker

A person paid to support someone. This could be someone who is ill, struggling or disabled and could not manage without this help.

Client contribution - See also: Self-funding

The amount you may need to pay towards the cost of the social care services you receive. Residential care charges are set nationally. If you need to pay, or the amount you have to pay, depends on your local council’s charging policy. Councils receive guidance from the Government on how much they can charge.

Client group

A group of people with social care needs who fit within a broad single category. An example of some client groups include:

  • older people
  • people with physical disability
  • people with learning disability
  • people with mental health problems

This may be a person or organisation. They plan the services needed by people who live in the area the organisation covers. They ensure that services are available. Sometimes the commissioner will pay for services, but not always. Your local council is the commissioner for adult social care. Local clinical commissioning groups commission NHS care. In many areas health and social care commissioners’ work together. They want to make sure that the right services are in place for the local population.

Community care services

Social care services that can help you live a full, independent life. The aim being to help you remain in your own home for as long as possible.

Community Health services

Health services provided outside hospitals, such as district nursing.

Continuing health care

Ongoing care outside hospital for someone who is ill or disabled, arranged and funded by the NHS. This type of care can be provided anywhere. It can include the full cost of a place in a nursing home. It is for when your need for day to day support is mostly due to your need for health care, rather than social care. The Government has issued guidance to the NHS on:

  • how to assess people for continuing health care
  • who can get it

When you are an equal partner in designing the support and services you receive. People who use social care services, and their families, have knowledge and experience. This can help make services better for everyone who needs social care.

Term Definition
Direct payments - See also: Personal budget

Money paid to you (or someone acting on your behalf) on a regular basis by your local council. This is so you can arrange your own support rather than services arranged by the council. Direct payments are available to people eligible for council-funded social care. They are not yet available for residential care. This is one type of personal budget.

Term Definition

When your needs meet your council’s criteria for council-funded care and support. Your local council decides who should get support. This is based on your level of need and the resources available in your area. You are eligible if your needs reach the point that your council will provide funding. Your local council will assess your needs. If they decide your needs are below this threshold, you will not qualify.

Term Definition
Home care

Care provided in your own home by paid care workers to help you with your daily life. It is also known as domiciliary care. Home care workers are usually employed by an independent agency. Your local council may arrange this. You or someone acting on your behalf may also make arrangements.

Term Definition
Independent living

The right to choose the way you live your life. This does not always mean living by yourself or doing everything for yourself. It means the right to receive the help and support you need. This will mean you can take part in your community and live the life you want.

Integrated Care

Joined up, coordinated health and social care. Based on the needs and preferences of the individual, their carer and family. This may also involve working with other services.

Term Definition
Means Tested

The amount of financial help you get is dependent on your household income and savings.

Term Definition
Occupational therapist (OT)

A professional with specialist training. They work with people with different types of disability or mental health needs. They can help you learn new skills or regain lost skills. They can arrange for aids and adaptations you need in your home. Both the NHS and local councils use occupational therapists.

Older people

Older people are the largest group of people who use adult social care services. Many councils define people over the age of 50 as older’. Social care services for older people are usually for people over the age of 65. This is unless you have particular needs that make you eligible before this age.


In social care, an ‘outcome’ refers to something you would like to achieve or need to happen. This could be continuing to live in your own home, or being able to go out and about. You should be able to say which outcomes are the most important to you. You will then receive support to achieve them.

Term Definition
People who use services

Anyone who uses care services, whether you are in your own home, in residential care or in hospital. The NHS is likely to describe you as a ‘patient’. The council and other care providers may also describe you as a ‘client’ or ‘service user’. You may also be described as a ‘cared-for person’, in relation to your carer.

Personal assistant

Someone you choose to employ to give you the support you need, in the way that suits you best. This may include:

  • cooking
  • cleaning
  • help with personal care such as washing and dressing
  • getting out and about in your community

Your personal assistant can be paid through direct payments or a personal budget.

Personal budget

Money allocated to you by your local council to pay for care or support to meet your assessed needs. The money comes solely from adult social care. You have a few choices, you can:

  • take your personal budget as a direct payment
  • choose to leave the council to arrange services (sometimes known as a managed budget)
  • have a combination of the two above

An alternative is an individual service fund. This is a personal budget that a care provider manages on your behalf. A personal health budget may also be available. This is a plan for your health care that you develop and control, knowing how much NHS money is available.


A way of thinking about care and support services that puts you at the centre of the process. The aim is to work out what your needs are, choose what support you need and give you control over your life. It is about you as an individual. It is not about groups of people whose needs are assumed to be similar, or about the needs of organisations.


The point at which you make contact with your local council, and they decide if a full assessment is necessary. This is based on the information given by you or the person who refers you to adult social care. It is often conducted over the phone.

Preventive services

Services you may receive to prevent more serious problems developing. These include things like reablement, telecare, befriending schemes and falls prevention services. The aim is to help you stay independent and maintain your quality of life. It is also to save money in the long term and avoid admissions to hospital or residential care.

Primary care

The part of the NHS that is the first point of contact for patients. This includes GPs, community nurses, pharmacists and dentists.

Term Definition

A way of helping you remain independent. Giving you the opportunity to relearn or regain some of the skills for daily living. Skills that you may have lost because of illness, accident or disability. It is like rehabilitation. Your council may offer a reablement service for a limited period. This would be in your own home. It may include help with:

  • personal care
  • activities of daily living
  • practical tasks around the home

A request for an assessment of a person’s needs, or for support from a social care organisation. Your GP, another health professional or anyone else who supports you may make a referral. You can also refer yourself, or a member of your family. You can do this by contacting the adult social care department at your local council.

Residential care

Care in a care home, with or without nursing. This is for older people or people with disabilities who need 24-hour care. Care homes offer trained staff. They are adapted so they are suitable for the needs of ill, frail or disabled people.

Resource Allocation System

The system some councils use to decide how much money people get for their support. There are clear rules to show everyone gets a fair amount of money. Once your needs are assessed you will be allocated an indicative budget. This is so you know how much money you have to spend on care and support. The purpose of an indicative budget is to help you plan the care and support that will help you meet your assessed needs. It might not be the final amount that you get, as you may find that it is not enough (or is more than enough) to meet those needs.

Respite care

A service giving carers a break. It provides short-term care for the person with care needs in their own home or in a residential setting. It can mean a few hours during the day or evening, ‘night sitting’, or a longer-term break. It can also benefit the person with care needs by giving them the chance to try new activities and meet new people.


You receive a re-assessment of your needs. You and the people in your life look at whether the services you are receiving are meeting your needs. The aim is to help you achieve your chosen outcomes. You can make changes if necessary.


What you are entitled to receive, and how you should be treated, as a citizen. You have the right to have your needs assessed by your local council if you:

  • have a disability or mental health problem.
  • are an older person.
  • act as a carer for someone else.

You have a right to a service or direct payment if your assessment shows you are eligible. You and your carers have a right to be consulted about your assessment. You should be told about any changes in the services you receive.

Risk assessment

An assessment of your:

  • health
  • safety
  • wellbeing
  • ability to manage your essential daily routines

You might also hear the term risk enablement. This means finding a way of managing any risks so that you can still do the things you want to do.

Term Definition

The process of ensuring that adults at risk are not being abused, neglected or exploited. Ensuring people deemed ‘unsuitable’ do not work with them. If you, or someone you know, is being abused, you should report it. You should contact your adult social care department in your local council. They will carry out an investigation and put a protection plan in place if abuse is happening. Councils have a duty to work with other organisations to protect adults from abuse and neglect. They do this through local safeguarding boards.

Self-assessment - See also: Pre-assessment

A form or questionnaire that you complete yourself. This may be on paper or online You explain your circumstances and why you need support. A social care worker or advocate can help you do this. If your council asks you to complete a self-assessment, it will use this information to decide:

  • if you are eligible for social care services
  • if you need a full assessment by a social worker
Self-directed support - See also: Personalisation

An approach to social care that puts you at the centre of the support planning process. This is so that you can make choices about the services you receive. It should help you feel in control of your care, so that it meets your needs as an individual.


When you arrange and pay for your own care services and do not receive financial help from the council.

Signposting See also: Broker

Pointing people in the direction of information that they should find useful. Your local council should signpost you towards information about social care and benefits. This could be through:

  • its helpline or call centre (if it has one)
  • its website
  • local services such as libraries and health centres
Single assessment process

An attempt to coordinate assessment and care planning across the NHS and councils. This is so that procedures aren’t repeated, and information is shared. Single assessment aims to stop:

  • people having more assessments than needed just because they have a wide range of needs.
  • information getting lost.

The single assessment process is used for older people. It is also increasingly for other adults with care needs.

Social worker

A professional who works with individual people and families. The aim is to help improve their lives by arranging to put in place the things they need. This includes:

  • helping to protect adults and children from harm or abuse.
  • supporting people to live independently.

Social workers support people and help them find the services they need. They may have a role as a care manager, arranging care for service users. Many are employed by councils in adult social care teams. Others work in the NHS or independent organisations.

Support plan

A plan you develop that says how you will spend your personal budget to get the life you want. You need to map out your week, define the outcomes you hope to achieve. You need to show how you will use the money to make these happen. Your local council must agree the plan before it makes money available to you.

Term Definition

Technology that enables you to remain independent and safe in your own home. Your home is linked with a monitoring centre that can respond to problems. Examples are:

  • pendant alarms that you wear round your neck.
  • automatic pill dispensers.
  • sensors placed in your home to detect if you have fallen.
  • sensors to recognise risks such as smoke, floods or gas-leaks.

Trained operators work in the monitoring centre. They can arrange for someone to come to your home. Or they can contact your family, doctor or emergency services.

Term Definition
Universal services

Services that should be available to everyone in a local area. These include:

  • transport
  • leisure
  • health
  • education

They are not dependent on assessment or eligibility.

Term Definition
Voluntary organisations

Organisations that are independent of the Government and local councils. Their job is to benefit the people they serve, not to make a profit. The people who work for voluntary organisations are not necessarily volunteers. Many get paid for the work they do. Social care services are often provided by local voluntary organisations. This could be by arrangement with the council or with you as an individual. Some are user-led organisations. This means they are run by and for the people the organisation is designed to benefit – e.g. disabled people.

Term Definition
Welfare or Care Authority

The local authority that provides social services to safeguard and promote the welfare and wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults.


Being in a position where you have:

  • good physical and mental health
  • control over your day-to-day life
  • good relationships
  • enough money
  • the opportunity to take part in the activities that interest you