Concerned social care providers have written to a local authority to warn them that despite the outcome of a legal challenge, their fears about delivering safe care to older and vulnerable adults in their area remain.
A group of providers mounted a legal challenge against Herefordshire Council after it imposed an unacceptable maximum price which it then required local operators to bid below in order to secure business.
The providers argued that the maximum price of £13.98 per hour would not enable them to deliver safe or quality home care to older and vulnerable adults who used home care services in the area. They also argued that the council had not consulted properly over its decision to lower the maximum rate from what it had previously paid.
The High Court rejected the providers’ call for a judicial review of the council’s processes, but the providers have now written to Herfordshire Council warning that the problems remain.
They are setting up a Providers’ Association and want to hold a quarterly forum with the local authority to discuss the provision of care in the area.
A spokesperson for some of the claimants and providers, Mike Padgham, said:
“Whilst disappointed that the court did not uphold the providers’ request for a judicial review, those providers also remain very worried that funding levels compromise the care they are going to be able to offer and have written to the authority warning them of that.”
The letter was sent by the providers’ solicitors Hempsons.
It says: “Our clients remain very concerned about the constraints that will be imposed upon them in relation to the delivery of quality home care services given the fee rate that has been set. We consider there are valid and legitimate concerns in relation to, in particular, the process of consultation in relation to this but be that as it may, given the rural nature of your locality, the provision of quality home care will be difficult to achieve given the fee rate being paid for those service users that are funded by the Council.
“In particular, local home care providers consider it is their responsibility to pay valued staff not only the National Minimum Wage but also aspire to offer a living wage given the very valuable work they undertake. There is concern this will be difficult to achieve within the current contractual arrangements and it is disappointing the Council as a public authority does not appear to be as concerned to achieve this aim.
“No doubt the Council will keep under review the operation of the contract and the impact it has upon the delivery of home care services, and the impact it has upon the local home care provider market.
“We are confident the Council would accept it’s broader public interest responsibility to ensure that the operation of its contracts for the provision of domiciliary care services are effective and result in quality, safe care for individuals in their own home and that where this appears to be compromised or threatened, the Council will respond proactively and swiftly and will cooperate with providers in doing so.
“Notwithstanding the outcome of the recent challenge, the issues remain live both as to the present and the future of domiciliary care provision in Herefordshire. We hope the Council will enhance the way that it engages with providers to the overall benefit of end service users.”
The providers had contended that the council’s maximum price represented a figure of up to 18.4% below current market rates. They argued that the authority had not properly taken into account providers’ legal obligation to pay careworkers the National Minimum Wage, cover travel, sickness and holiday pay, or to meet training and essential quality checks. They concluded that the council’s maximum price compromised their ability to provide a proper service and may have even risked service users’ safety.
They warned that the only way providers could bid below the council’s maximum price was by cutting costs, penalising their staff and putting the viability of their services at risk.
They also argued that not enough consultation was carried out before the new ceiling was imposed. This, they argued, denied the providers any opportunity to give feedback on the proposed ceiling and the impact it would have.
Speaking on behalf of the national association for homecare providers, Colin Angel of United Kingdom Homecare Association said:
“This case highlights two recurring issues: councils cutting costs to an unsustainable level and taking advantage of their dominant purchasing power to the point where local homecare providers can be forced to use the courts as the final form of redress.
“These care providers are fighting for important principles: sufficient funding to deliver safe, dignified care which also meets the legal requirements of at least the National Minimum Wage for their workforce.”