UK councils are increasingly using quality criteria to determine fees for care home providers, but there are concerns the practice is being used to cut costs, market analysts Laing & Buisson said today.
A survey of 151 councils by its monthly publication, Community Care Market News, found that a quarter had linked fees for older people’s care homes to quality criteria in 2008-9. But it suggested as many as three-quarters could be doing so by the start of 2009-10.
In England, this has included using the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s quality ratings for providers, which CSCI only began publishing in May this year. Other criteria include levels of staff training, including NVQ qualifications.
However, Laing & Buisson analyst Alex Mitchell said there were fears among providers about the transparency of quality criteria and “whether they may be misused as a convenient means of cost containment”.
The survey found that on average fees had increased by 3% in 2008-9 – at the lower end of Laing & Buisson’s 3-3.5% estimate of inflation in the care home sector this year.
However, some providers believed that councils’ declared fee increases were in reality maximum rates paid to those homes that met quality criteria – with the rest receiving sub-inflationary rises or, in some cases, cuts.
Rises lowest in England
Overall, Laing & Buisson found that councils across England paid homes below-inflationary increases on average, with payments rising by 2.7%, compared to 3.4% in Scotland and 5.3% in Wales.
Within England, providers in the North East and Cumbria received the highest increases – 5.5% on average – with inner London authorities offering the lowest rises (1.5%).
The news came after the Department of Health rejected recent calls from the English Community Care Association to intervene to force English councils to offer improved rates to care homes this year.
However, the DH said that authorities should not be offering sub-inflationary increases to providers solely to meet efficiency targets – a rationale offered by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.