Warning of ‘back door’ fees for social care staff

Registration fees for social care staff in England could be introduced "through the back door" if the government goes ahead with a plan to install a voluntary regulation system, sector leaders have warned.

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Registration fees for social care staff in England could be introduced “through the back door” if the government goes ahead with a plan to install a voluntary regulation system, sector leaders have warned.

The Department of Health yesterday ruled out the establishment of statutory registers for social care workers in England, claiming the cost could not be justified in the current economic climate. Instead, health secretary Andrew Lansley proposed applying a system of “assured voluntary registration” to the sector.

Social care providers broadly welcomed the announcement, which appeared to rule out imposing registration fees on the low paid social care workforce.

But Colin Angel, head of policy and communication at the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), warned that providers might add registration as a clause in contracts, effectively introducing compulsion through the back door.

Unison also criticised Lansley’s proposals, claiming care workers were being asked to fund a registration scheme out of their own pockets.

“This is pushing the cost of public protection onto the lowest paid,” said Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care.

Les Clarke, director of strategy and service development at Housing 21, shared this concern: “There is always a risk that voluntary systems become de facto compulsory if local commissioners insist on them as a condition of contracts.”

He added: “There has never been a compelling case for compulsory registration of the social care workforce, because it always threatened to be overly complex and costly.”

The General Social Care Council, which currently regulates social workers in England, warned that any plans to register social care staff “must not burden employers and care workers with additional costs”.

Chief executive Penny Thompson said the government should consult social care staff, employers and service users in England on whether the workforce should be registered, before moving forward with its policy on regulation.

The Health Professions Council, which will take over responsibility for regulating social workers from the GSCC in April 2012 and is likely to be tasked with setting up a voluntary register for social care workers by 2013, said it would review the implications of Lansley’s proposals at its next council meeting on 31 March.

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