Care provider quits Essex County Council contract saying rates too low for ‘safe or legal’ services

PUBLISHED: 16:09 06 July 2017 | UPDATED: 12:04 12 July 2017

Care firm says new prices are not sustainable. Stock image. Picture: LISA F YOUNG/GETTY

Care firm says new prices are not sustainable. Stock image. Picture: LISA F YOUNG/GETTY

Archant

A firm providing at home care for Essex residents has pulled out of a contract with the county council saying a proposed new deal means it would be unable to run services safely or legally.

County Hall, Chelmsford, home of Essex County Council. Picture: ARCHANTCounty Hall, Chelmsford, home of Essex County Council. Picture: ARCHANT

Mears Group says the proposed hourly rate for its renewed contract with Essex County Council is “considerably” lower than the existing fee, despite increases to the National Living Wage, pensions and other costs – and is “well short” of the minimum £16.70 per customer recommended by the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA).

The firm’s 202 Essex staff, based in Colchester and Laindon, will continue to provide services to its 260 elderly clients until November, and will work with County Hall to ensure a smooth transition of care.

The Colchester office has 96 staff caring for 158 clients.

Mears cites running costs including staff pay, National Insurance, sick and holiday pay, the Apprenticeship Levy, travel costs, uniforms, equipment, training and background checks, plus office and administration costs.

David Finch, leader of Essex County Council. Picture: SU ANDERSONDavid Finch, leader of Essex County Council. Picture: SU ANDERSON

Its workers visit people at their homes, often two or three times daily, to provide personal care such as help washing and dressing, and preparing meals.

The Mears statement said: “Essex County Council’s new homecare contract proposes a rate that is considerably lower than the current rate. Mears believes no organisation can deliver a care service at the new rate safely or legally.”

Alan Long, group executive director, added: “It is with great reluctance and disappointment we take this decision.

“We have worked successfully with Essex County Council for 15 years, however we are left with no choice but not to renew any homecare contracts with them.

“Essex County Council has asked Mears to reduce our charge for homecare when our rate is already below the absolute minimum recommended by UKHCA.

“We are sympathetic to the financial pressures facing the council, however they are unrealistic in the level of pricing required to recruit good quality carers, conform to legislation and provide a good, safe and compliant service.

“We held extensive talks with them, including proposals to make savings for the council without impacting care worker pay or the quality of the service. We have been told it is too late to do anything different, despite the current contract not ending until the middle of November.

“We will continue to provide our service until then and will co-operate as best we can to facilitate customers and staff being transferred to as yet unknown providers – however we remain concerned any provider could deliver a safe and lawful service at the new rate.”

Earlier this year, Mears and the Local Government Information Unit produced a report into the state of the homecare market in England, which concluded it is on the brink of collapse and is held together by hope and goodwill. It says care is being purchased at prices that are not economically sustainable, meaning providers – both businesses and charities – have to either limp along and effectively subsidise the state while shorting workers and clients, or go out of business.

David Finch, county council leader, said: “Mears made a commercial decision not to continue with their contract with Essex County Council, in line with their national strategy.

“Providers across Essex are engaged with the adoption of our proposed new commercial arrangements, which have received and passed rigorous scrutiny tests in terms of quality and safety standards. We intend to work with them to smoothly transition services going forward ensuring all our residents remain safe and cared for.

“The sector is under pressure which is why we have been lobbying so hard for Government action and a sustainable, long-term solution to the care crisis.

“We are proud of the high quality services our residents receive.”

Mr Finch has previously written to central government warning about cuts to local government funding, with particular reference to adult social care.

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