Elder care in an age of disruption



Elder care is a growing and likely huge retention issue for employers as more and more of their employees face the demands of caring for elder relatives with complex conditions. Many are also likely to be parents of young children as the population ages and people delay having children until their 30s and 40s.

Elder care is a big social issue too: cuts in local authority funding for care in addition to growing numbers of frail, elderly people has a big impact on the NHS. There are also increasing concerns about loneliness and isolation.

One new elder care organisation has come up with its own solution – matching full-time live-in carers with elderly people – and its model has led to it being ranked high up Startups.co.uk’s top start-ups list.

Elder.org was founded two years ago by Tom Brooks and Pete Dowds who had worked together on another start-up and both of whose mothers needed to go into a care home. They struggled to find good ones. Their initial idea was to create an online marketplace to compare different care homes and find the best one, but they soon realised there were not enough options so they hit on the live-in care model which they say can work out cheaper than residential care.

The weekly price for live-in care is £795. In 2016-17, the average weekly cost of a room in a residential home in the UK was £600, and a room in a nursing home cost £841, although fees vary in different parts of the country.

Elder.org provides a range of care – live-in care, home care, dementia care, elderly care, home help and 24-hour care – by matching carers up through an algorithm with the person being cared for based on shared interests, personality and other factors. By providing live-in care, on a short-term or longer-term basis, it means elderly people can stay in their own homes instead of going into care.

Financing care

Elder.org also helps people to negotiate the financial issues around care. For instance, for people with under £23,400 in liquid assets (i.e. excluding the value of their property) who are eligible for local authority support it helps them navigate the direct payment process. For those with more liquid assets, it has teamed up with lifetime mortgage specialists Key Retirement to offer a live-in care plan, which gives people the chance to unlock some of the money from their home without having to sell or move out. The money is repayable at the end of the plan and is protected against negative equity.

“People think it will be more expensive and that their local authority won’t pay for it, but it can be cheaper. People want to stay in their own homes. This is the future,” says PR manager Rebecca Watkins.

The matching process is at the heart of Elder.org. “One of the biggest questions people have is who is going to care for them so we take a lot of care matching them up and our team are involved every step of the way. It’s not just putting data in a computer,” says Rebecca. People can meet their carer beforehand, there are videos and a settling in period. “They become part of the family.”

The carers are vetted by Elder.org and can move in whenever a person needs them and look after them on a one to one basis. If there are any problems, Elder.org will step in, says Rebecca, though she says this is rare.

Elder.org offers a package tailored to the individual. Full-time carers work in rotation, with three to four weeks on and one-two weeks off when another carer takes over. The live-in carer does not have to be permanent, for instance, if an elderly person has had a fall and needs help moving from the hospital back to their home, a carer can live in for a few days or weeks until they are back on their feet. “It takes the pressure off family members,” says Rebecca. She adds that it also takes the pressure off the NHS as people who are fit to go home are able to be discharged more quickly.

Many of those working at Elder.org have personal experience of care issues. Rebecca’s mum had brain cancer and couldn’t look after herself. “I would see her every day in the care home and every day she would say she wanted to go home,” says Rebecca.

She adds that the one to one care offered by Elder.org is particularly important for those with dementia as it means the carer can get to know the person well.

Staying at home

One of the biggest challenges is getting the person being cared for to admit they need help so Elder.org offers the first week free to ensure they are happy with their carer.

Rebecca says intervening early and enabling a person to stay in their own home can make a big difference to a person’s well being.

Elder.org now has 1,700 carers across the country, aged from their early 20s to their early 60s. They are all fully trained and work on a self employed basis. The Elder.org team check on them regularly. They are paid more than the going rate for working in a care home, says Rebecca, and Elder.org provides ongoing support for them and the family they care for through a named individual.

The company was recently ranked fifth in the annual Start-ups 100 listing compiled by Startups.co.uk. “That shows we are causing disruption and people are taking notice,” says Rebecca.

She adds that Elder.org is bigger than most of its competitors and growing fast. There are now 50 people working in the head office in London and they cover the whole country.

“The feedback we usually get is that we take the stress out of things for them. They say it is the best thing ever,” says Rebecca. “A lot of them are grandparents taking care of their own parents. Having a live-in carer means they can enjoy their retirement.”


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