Home-care re-ablement or 'restorative' services are a cornerstone of preventive service initiatives in many countries. Many English local authorities are transforming their former in-house home-care services to provide intensive, short-term re-ablement instead. The focus of this paper is on the organisation and content of re-ablement services and the features of their organisation and delivery that have the potential to enhance or detract from their effectiveness. Qualitative data were collected from five sites with well-established re-ablement services. Data included semi-structured interviews with senior service managers in each site; observation of 26 re-ablement visits to service users across the five sites (four to six in each site) and a focus group discussion with front-line staff in each site (in total involving 37 front-line staff). The data generated from all three sources were analysed using the framework approach. All five services had developed from selective pilot projects to inclusive 'intake' service, accepting almost all referrals for home-care services. A number of features were identified as contributing to the effectiveness of re-ablement services. These included: service user characteristics and expectations; staff commitment, attitudes and skills; flexibility and prompt intervention; thorough and consistent recording systems; and rapid access to equipment and specialist skills in the team. Factors external to the re-ablement services themselves also had implications for their effectiveness; these included: a clear, widely understood vision of the service; access to a wide range of specialist skills; and capacity within long-term home-care services. The paper argues that re-ablement can be empowering for all service users in terms of raising their confidence. However, the move to a more inclusive 'intake' service suggests that outcomes are likely to be considerably lower for service users who have more limited potential to be independent. The paper discusses the implications for practice.