This article investigates the challenges faced by those trying to develop 'culturally competent' palliative care for South Asian cancer patients in Luton, UK. It discusses the findings of a phenomenological study of service providers' attitudes to and experiences of caring for South Asian patients. Ten semi-structured in-depth interviews were carried out with a range of staff who work in home and community-based palliative care settings, including nurses, community liaison personnel and representatives of non-statutory organisations. The authors begin by considering how these service providers construct ideas of cultural difference and how these relate to philosophies of palliative care. They then examine attempts to deal with cultural diversity in everyday practice, focusing in particular on the social context of care in the home. The paper considers the ways in which staff attempt to incorporate the cultural needs of patients, family, kin and community. Rather than criticising current working practices, the authors highlight the complexity of delivering culturally competent services from the perspective of those working directly with patients. In doing so, they contribute to ongoing debates about the development of anti-discriminatory practice in health and social care.