The government is urging councils to consider barring providers from tenders for care contracts if they have breached legislation to pay staff the minimum wage.
The call came in draft statutory guidance under the Care Act published today for consultation. The section of the guidance on commissioning and market shaping also called on councils to ensure staff in providers they contract with are paid the minimum wage, including for time spent travelling between home care appointments.
The Department of Health also called on authorities to limit the commissioning of 15-minute home care visits for personal care, saying this would “not routinely be appropriate”.
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The draft guidance said councils should “assure themselves” that providers they contracted with remunerated staff sufficiently to “retain an effective workforce”, at the very least paying the minimum wage.
“This will include appropriate remuneration for any time spent travelling between appointments,” said the draft statutory guidance.
Councils should also assure themselves that the fees they were paying providers were “appropriate to provide the delivery of the agreed care packages with agreed quality of care”, including by ensuring staff received the minimum wage and appropriate training.
The draft guidance would also urge councils to “consider every legal means” to exclude providers from tendering processes where they have been found to have breached minimum wage legislation.
Crackdown on minimum wage and zero-hours abuses
The provisions follow the announcement in the Queen’s Speech that the government would introduce a Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill to crack down on employers that failed to pay the minimum wage and misused zero-hours contracts.
Concerns around both issues have been raised repeatedly in respect of the social care sector over the past year. A HM Revenue and Customs investigation into care providers last year found that 2,400 care workers had been paid below the minimum wage in the past two years and were owed £340,000 in arrears by employers. Between 160,000 and 220,000 care workers were likely to be unlawfully being paid less than the minimum wage, found research by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit in 2011.
The provisions on the treatment of the workforce in the draft statutory guidance were accompanied by others urging councils to use their care contracting processes to reward good quality and eliminate poor practice, including by cutting back on 15-minute care visits.
“Local authorities should ensure that where they arrange services, the assessed needs of a person with eligible care and support needs is translated into effective, appropriate commissioned services that are adequately resourced,” said the guidance. “For example, short home-care visits of 15 minutes or less would not routinely be appropriate for people with intimate care needs, though such visits may be appropriate for services like checking whether medicine has been taken, or where specifically requested by people receiving care.”
Action on 15-minute care visits hailed
The government faced strong calls during the passage of the Care Act to use the regulations and statutory guidance under the bill to pressure councils into reducing their commissioning of short home care visits; and today’s provision was strongly welcomed by charity and care provider Leonard Cheshire Disability, which has led the campaign against 15-minute care visits.
“We are delighted that the government has listened to the thousands of campaigners who have raised this issue and included draft guidelines that these ‘flying’ 15-minute care visits are simply not appropriate,” said Clare Pelham, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire Disability.
“This is simply not the sort of care that we would want, or we would want for our family. When the final guidance is published, we need that to be made even more crystal clear.”
None of these provisions would be mandatory for councils but including them in the statutory guidance, which will be published in final form in October, would send out a strong message to local authorities about how they should be commissioning care.
The consultation on the draft regulations and statutory guidance runs until 15 August; practitioners can respond by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org