Charities and other bodies urge regulator to help solve sleep-in care crisis

A group of 34 organisations want the Charity Commission to lobby government on a crisis that some say could cost the care sector £400m

LIve-in carers: huge back-pay bill looming

A group of 34 charities and other bodies have called on the Charity Commission to lobby the government to help solve the sleep-in care crisis.

A letter from about half of all organisations that provide care services to people with learning disabilities in the UK calls on the commission to protect charities’ financial health and ask the government to fund sleep-in care back pay.

The government changed its guidance on sleep-in care workers last year after two tribunal rulings left care charities facing a back-pay bill for six years of arrears, which Mencap estimated would total £400m.

Charities that use sleep-in carers had previously typically paid a flat rate of between £35 and £45, plus an hourly rate for any time spent providing care rather than being asleep. But the revised guidance said the carers should be entitled to the minimum wage for the entirety of their shifts.

The government last year asked charities to sign up to a scheme that gave them 15 months to pay off any arrears.

But charities and umbrella bodies have repeatedly said that expecting charities to pay back pay would threaten the financial viability of the sector, with a report last month from the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group suggesting that 70 per cent of cares service providers could be at risk.

Mencap is awaiting the outcome of a High Court appeal heard in March against the government’s back-pay decision.

The letter, addressed to Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, and signed by organisations including the VODG, the charity chief executives body Acevo, the care sector umbrella body Learning Disability Voices and Mencap, says government intervention is needed to prevent a financial catastrophe in the care sector.

"If there is no government intervention, charitable reserves and money donated by the public will have to be used to cover the cost," the letter says.

"We, as charities, have a responsibility to the people we care for, our dedicated staff and our supporters. Furthermore, we feel that it is neither fair, nor financially viable for us to fund these essential government services for the most vulnerable people in the UK, which we believe are the very measure of how government functions within a civilised society."

The letter also says the crisis has to be solved before the third quarter of the financial year because the back-pay bill is due from November.

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission confirmed the regulator had received the letter and would "respond in due course".

Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the VODG, said: "Further government inaction on the sleep-in payments issue is simply wrong. Government cannot keep kicking this can down the road. Government must commit to funding the sleep-in back-pay bill now.

"£400m is a colossal amount to the charity care sector, but only a drop in the bucket for the government. Considering that they would have paid this money to providers already if their own previous guidance had not been mistaken, it is farcical for the government to even consider leaving charities to pick up their tab."

Tim Cooper, co-chair of Learning Disability Voices, said: "If our underfunded social care charities are forced to pay the sleep-in back-pay bill, this will be tantamount to charities funding essential government services.

"Large charities will be forced to use their hard-earned reserves, which include money donated by the public. Smaller charities are likely to be forced to close their doors permanently, effectively abandoning vulnerable people. This is a matter of public interest."

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