Residential aged care

As we get older and are no longer able to live at home without significant levels of support, we may need to move into residential aged care.

Changing where we live is a big decision which can affect our lifestyle, access to care support, age pension entitlements, finances and estate planning. It is important to consider all these aspects before making any decisions.

It is also essential to understand the different types of care and how you can access government funding.

What care is provided by a residential service?

Residential aged care provides you with a place to live and full living support, including some nursing assistance.

The basic services provided by all care services include:

On-call staff for assistance
Basic accommodation-related services such as furnishings
Cleaning services and general laundry
Maintenance of buildings and grounds

Other services may be offered at an additional cost, for example, hairdressing.

In previous years distinctions were made between low care (also called hostels) and high care (also called nursing homes). But changes to the rules from 1 July 2014 no longer make these distinctions.

If you move into a residential care service (facility) you may now be able to stay in that service even as your health declines. In some cases, if the service can no longer provide the level of care that you need, they may help you to move to a more appropriate service. Or they may require you to move to a different room so they can provide adequate care.

When you move into a residential care service, the staff will assess your daily needs and put together a specific care plan for you. This will continue to be monitored and changed as your needs change.

This care plan is also connected to the Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) assessment that is undertaken by staff. The results of your ACFI assessment also set the cost of your care against government pricing schedules and the amount of subsidies the government will pay towards the cost of your care.

How is the aged care industry structured?

If the resident and the service (facility) are both ‘approved’ the government pays a share of the costs, this is called a subsidised place. If the resident and/or the service are not approved, the government will not pay any of the costs and the resident needs to pay the full cost. This is a non-subsidised place.

Residential aged care

The approval process for the service is called accreditation. This means that the service provider must agree to follow the rules set by the government on how to operate aged care and pass a standards audit every three years. This audit evaluates the service in four areas:

Management systems and staffing
Health and personal care
Resident lifestyle
Physical environment and safety.

If accredited, the aged care service can apply for bed licences (subsidised places). This entitles the service to receive government subsidies for residents who occupy those places.

 Aged Care Lifetime Expectations


When choosing a residential service ask to see the accreditation certificate and results.

You can also search for results on the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency website –

How do I gain approval?

If you want the government to pay some of your care costs you need to be approved by an Aged Care Assessment Team or Service (ACAT/ACAS).


Step 1

Your doctor, nurse or social worker may refer you to an ACAT/ACAS team. Or you can make your own appointment on 1800 200422.


Step 2

The ACAT/ACAS will make an appointment to visit you in your home or hospital. If you grant permission they may talk to your doctor.


Step 3

The appointment will take about 1.5 hours. The ACAT/ACAS will ask a series of questions about your health and how much help you need with daily living activities. They will also ask if you are interested in aged care.


Step 4

You will be sent a letter advising what care you are approved for (if any) and reasons for the decision. You will also receive a copy of the completed Aged Care Client Record (ACCR). The aged care services will need to see the ACCR.


Once approved, this approval does not lapse. So you don’t have to move in straight away but can use that approval whenever you are ready to make the move.


Aged Care Lifetime Expectations


It can take a while to get an appointment with an ACAT/ACAS. Plan ahead and make an appointment as soon as you think you may need care.

What if I need to move services?

You may want to move to a new residential service if you need specialised care that can’t be provided in the existing service or for personal reasons. Or perhaps because a place is more convenient or a suitable service becomes available.

You do not need a new ACAT/ACAS assessment to make the move.

What is respite care?

Sometimes you may only need short-term or temporary residential care. This is called respite care. This type of care may be suitable if:

  • Your family or carer is going on holidays
  • You have had an accident or an illness which means you need more intensive care for a short-period while you recover
  • Your family or carer needs a break or some short-term support.

Before you can receive respite care in a government subsidised service you need to have an assessment from ACAT/ACAS. You will also need to book in for a place with your residential service of choice and check if they will have a place available at the time you need it.

If approved by ACAT/ACAS you can receive up to 63 days of government-subsidised respite care each year. You can also apply to ACAT/ACAS for a 21 day extension if needed.

Did you know?

During 2015/16, a total of 73,335 people had respite stays in aged care facilities. The average length of stay was 25.5 days. The government spent almost $196.5 million towards the cost of this care.

Source: 2015-16 Report on the Operation of the Aged Care Act 1997, Department of Health and Ageing, page 38-40. 

This article is prepared by the strategy specialists at Aged Care Steps, an independent company supporting financial planning advice for aged care. To find a professional adviser who specialises in aged care advice go to and click on the Find an Adviser link.

Disclaimer: This is general advice and does not take into account your particular circumstances or objectives. Before taking any action you should seek personal financial planning, taxation or legal advice and refer to the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before investing in any product. Aged Care Steps is an authorised representative of Strategy Steps Pty Ltd ABN 14130045242, AFSL 333649.

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