The aim of this study was to provide a population-based estimate of the utilisation of publicly financed formal home care by older adults in Ireland and to identify the principal characteristics of those utilising formal home care. Data were collected through computer-aided personal interviews from a representative sample of community living older adults in Ireland. The interviews were conducted between 2009 and 2011 as part of the first wave of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA). The study is cross-sectional in design and limited to participants aged 65years and older (n=3507). Results reveal that 8.2% (95% CI 7.1%-9.3%) of participants utilised publicly financed formal home care in the form of home help and/or personal care. Key determinants of formal home-care utilisation were Instrumental Activity of Daily Living (IADL) difficulty (Adj OR 3.8, 95% CI 2.7-5.3), older age (Adj OR 3.4, 95% CI 2.4-4.8) and living alone (Adj OR 2.6, 95% CI 1.9-3.8). Almost half of those utilising formal care did not self-report an Activity of Daily Living (ADL) difficulty or an IADL difficulty. Government policy aims to reduce the need for long-term residential care by providing formal home care for older adults with low to moderate levels of dependency. This requires an increasing emphasis on personal care provision in the home. No evidence was found in this study to suggest that a shift in emphasis from formal domestic to personal care is taking place in Ireland. The absence of standardised assessment and eligibility criteria are deemed to be barriers to reorientation of the system. From a health services perspective, the current situation is not sustainable into the future and requires a focused policy response.