The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has published consumer protection guidelines for contracts of care in long-term residential services for older people.
The guidelines set out the obligations and responsibilities that providers must adhere to under consumer protection law.
They are aimed at providing greater transparency, clarity and certainty for consumers.
The CCPC has identified a number of "potentially unfair terms" currently being used in nursing home contracts of care.
Care providers are being advised to review their contracts to ensure that they are in compliance.
In this review, the CCPC found that the language used in contracts was often technical and may not be easily understood.
In some cases, important information was not provided to the resident - which could prevent them from making an informed decision.
The CCPC also found examples of potentially unfair terms, such as terms which allowed for significant changes to the contract with no prior consultation with the resident or their representative.
It has also published an information booklet for consumers to help them understand what they are entitled to expect in contracts of care.
"Residents of nursing homes have consumer rights regardless of whether they pay all or some of the costs of their care", the CCPC said.
"If a resident has entered into a contract that is not in plain understandable language or if they believe that there are terms and conditions in their contract of care which places them at a significant disadvantage or may be unfair, they should write to the nursing home provider setting out their concerns."
In developing the guidelines, the CCPC said it engaged fully with the market from both the consumers' and suppliers' perspectives.
Engagement and research included a public consultation, meetings with stakeholders, close engagement with other regulators and a review of contracts of care which are currently in use.
Isolde Goggin, chairperson of the CCPC, said: "The decision to move into residential care is usually taken in stressful circumstances.
"For many people, there are limited options to choose from and moving to another nursing home, if you are not happy, is not feasible.
"This means residents are particularly vulnerable.
"If there is a lack of transparency in contracts of care, residents and their families are at risk of being tied into terms and conditions that they don't understand or that they would never knowingly agree to."
"It is vital that nursing homes are fair and transparent in how they draw up residents' contracts.
"We have developed these guidelines to help service providers understand and comply with their obligations and in doing so set a standard for contracts of care into the future."
"Over the coming days, nursing homes across Ireland will be receiving a copy of the guidelines.
"It is now up to each nursing home provider to review their standard form contracts of care to ensure that they are in compliance with consumer protection law."
After a period of time to allow for any changes to be made, the CCPC plans to again assess compliance in the sector.