More known unknowns as government fails to get a grip on the sleep in crisis

The government has again failed to tackle the funding of sleep in care, says VODG as it responds to the latest development in the long-running crisis. The national umbrella group, which represents disability charities, says the sleep in crisis remains critical and unresolved despite repeated calls for action from across the social care sector.

Care sector ‘sleep in’ shifts are delivered to people with learning disabilities and other complex needs requiring round the clock care. Recent changes to the application of the National Living Wage could leave providers liable for up to six years of back payments. HMRC could now actively pursue providers who believed they were acting within guidance which the government has admitted was “potentially misleading”. Independent research has estimated the retrospective cost to the sector could be a devastating £400 million.

Following the earlier hiatus in enforcement, VODG raised significant concerns but committed to working with Government to find a solution.

However, while the latest announcement about a new Social Care Compliance Scheme (SCCS) offers an apparent way forward, there are no assurances on how to fund the devastating retrospective cost. VODG says that Government’s plans fall well short of what is necessary to remove the continuing damaging uncertainty.

VODG chair, Steve Scown said:

“VODG has been engaging with the members about unclear regulations and guidance since 2012, and making representations to Government since 2014. Despite funding independent research, providing detailed analysis and information for the Department of Health as well as offering pragmatic solutions we find Government has done well to talk to itself, but not the sector.”

Steve Scown goes on to say:

“The announcement raises lots of uncertainties and unanswered questions which we shall be taking to Government. This situation risks yet more unintended consequences as the limbo for providers and personal budget holders continues.”

The latest announcement offers employers the opportunity to join a self-correction scheme (the Social Care Compliance Scheme or SCCS). However, without any indication about how any retrospective costs will be funded the scheme is unlikely to be attractive to employers. VODG is continuing to call on Government to align its enforcement approach with sufficient funding to cover both any back pay liabilities arising from misleading guidance and the future increased costs of providing sleep in services.

The majority of people who require sleep in support have high levels of health and social care needs and this means that their support is publicly funded. HMRC enforcement action could well see providers turning to their lawyers to ensure local authorities and health bodies meet these back pay costs given the commissioning arrangements of the past have led to this crisis situation.

VODG has consistently argued for a robust strategy for funding social care. The recent report, True Costs: why we cannot ignore the failure in social care funding sets out the dire consequences for essential social care services because of Government’s continued under-investment in the sector.

VODG chief executive Rhidian Hughes said:

“Voluntary sector care and support providers are disproportionately affected by social care budget cuts because the people they mainly support are publicly-funded. The sleep in crisis is placing immense strain on the sector and we are calling on Government to urgently identify a long term and sustainable funding solution for social care. This includes funding social care for working age adults who are unlikely ever to be in a position to make financial provision for their own support needs.”