Service users who lose financial support from councils may be liable to substantial redundancy payments if they dismiss their personal assistants, an insurance company has warned.
Fish Insurance, which covers thousands of direct payments recipients against their employment costs, reported that monthly enquiries about redundancy had jumped by 74% between July and September this year.
“We’re now handling about 150 enquiries a month relating to redundancy or restructuring employment terms, which might lead to redundancy,” said Fish chief executive Elissa Foster.
“Our dialogue with the local authorities and support groups has painted a similar picture, with their worries heightened by concerns over who is ultimately liable in law to settle statutory redundancy payments.”
In September, Community Care published research showing that, by next year, 80% of councils would no longer be meeting adult care service users’ moderate needs, up from 75% now.
Sue Bott, chief executive of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she was “very concerned” at the news and said councils should cover the costs of redundancy payments.
The problem had arisen from councils’ failure to cover the full costs of employing PAs when providing service users with direct payments. “Now direct payments just cover the costs of employing someone, usually at the minimum wage, and, if you’re lucky, an amount for insurance, but that’s usually at the lower end,” Bott said.
Fish Insurance’s warning comes after the Department of Health announced in its adult social care vision that a PA strategy, covering care staff hired by direct payment or personal budget users, would be published next year. All service users are due to receive personal budgets by 2013.
Sector leaders said the strategy must improve the training and status of PAs, while ensuring that regulation of the sector does not put more pressure on families.
“What I would be looking for is a sense of it being a worthwhile job with people receiving training and becoming better in their work,” said Andrew Cozens, group lead for adult social care at the Local Government Association.
He said PAs’ training opportunities were limited: “That falls mainly on the individual [PA] or the person who is employing them,” he said.
Alex Fox, chief executive of NAAPS, which represents small care providers and Shared Lives services, said local authorities ought to ensure the training enjoyed by their own staff was available to PAs.
PAs are less regulated than other social care staff. Carers UK director of policy and public affairs Emily Holzhausen said it was important that there were no unintentional burdens placed on family carers through any increased regulation of personal assistants.
Fox said families also needed support in arranging cover for PAs: “There’s not much in the way of back-up for someone if your personal assistant is off”.
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