Care agencies are increasingly willing to use the courts to address home care funding issues, the United Kingdom Homecare Association has warned councils.
It has written to all councils in England and Wales following the recent judicial reviews against Sefton and Pembrokeshire councils and a recent announcement by Staffordshire Council that it would review care fees for residential services.
Warning councils that legal challenges carry considerable financial and resource costs for both parties even before they reach the courts, UKHCA has proposed six key issues that councils should consider carefully when responding to their budgetary constraints, asking each authority’s chief executive to respond with the council’s current assessment of its position:
● Whether the authority has recently undertaken an accurate assessment of the legitimate, current and future costs faced by home care providers, and whether the authority operates a fee negotiation arrangement that recognises these costs in full.
● Whether the authority has breached existing clauses in contracts, particularly in relation to inflationary up-lifts; or has exercised unilateral rights to vary or hold contract prices at existing levels.
● Whether the authority has engaged in reassessment of homecare packages that have resulted in a general reduction in visit times; or has adopted a per-minute billing system which has reduced providers’ income; without a comparable reduction in providers’ operating costs.
● Whether the authority’s contracting arrangements have added additional costs for providers, which have not been reflected by an increase in the contract price.
● Whether service users receiving direct payments can realistically afford to buy regulated care services, if they choose to, that will meet their assessed needs.
● Whether contract terms and prices could be found by the courts to have created a reduction in the quality of service provision, which may put citizens who use care services at risk.
UKHCA’s policy and campaigns director, Colin Angel, said: “It is deeply regrettable that tensions between commissioners and providers have become so strained that UKHCA feels obliged to raise this matter formally.
“However, the need to provide safe, dignified and sustainable services to people in their own homes is under extreme pressure by the cost-cutting actions of many councils. It is in the public interest to reverse the trends that threaten the stability of the homecare sector without recourse to the courts.”
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