Traditionally, day care for elderly persons has been provided by health or social services; however, recently facilities have been developed by voluntary organizations. This study was conducted to examine the characteristics of elderly clients with mental health problems attending these various settings, and to identify any areas of unmet need. One hundred and twenty-nine clients attending ten different day care facilities and their carers were interviewed in a standardized manner.There were both similarities and important differences between clients attending day hospitals, social services and Age Concern day centres. Day centres had a higher proportion of cognitively impaired clients than day hospitals. Although there were similar rates of depression across all settings, the severity of depression was greater in those attending Age Concern day centres. Patients at day hospitals suffering from dementia were more likely to be psychotic or behaviourally disturbed. The reasons for these differences are discussed in detail. Carers and clients were generally satisfied with services, though professionals were less satisfied. There is a need for joint planning and commissioning of day care to provide maximum flexibility and co-ordination of services.