Charities have expressed concern after the government announced a new review of the potential bill facing social care providers for historic underpayment of staff.
Providers have been urging the government to rethink enforcement action over back-pay for sleep-in shift workers, which the sector estimates could cost it up tp £400m and bankrupt many providers, for the past year, arguing that the government changed its National Minimum Wage (NMW) guidance in October 2016.
Last November, after months of discussions with charities, the government published a controversial interim enforcement policy including a voluntary Social Care Compliance Scheme (SCCS), which requires organisations to assess their own back-pay liability and repay any wage arrears to workers.
Last Friday, the Department for Health and Social Care sent a letter to providers saying it had commissioned Frontier Economics and LaingBuisson to make its own assessment of the potential back-pay liabilities on the sector.
The letter says the review will be undertaken between January and March 2018. It will include gathering information from local authorities and clinical commissioning groups throughout England and a random sample of social care providers in England.
It says the aim of the work is to “gauge the extent of liabilities for underpayment of the NMW for sleep-in shifts; and the impact of these liabilities on the sector”.
This new research follows a similar piece of research the government commissioned Deloitte to undertake last year, but results of that have yet to be published.
In its letter, DHSC says: “Whilst the first set of analysis undertaken by Deloitte was useful, it was also necessarily limited by the requirement to obtain evidence in a very short space of time over the summer.
“This second phase will give providers more time to respond, and will look to obtain responses from a wider sample of the provider market. This will consequently increase the strength of the evidence, giving ministers better information on which to base their decisions.”
The newly created #SolveSleepIns Alliance, a coalition of organisations representing learning disability charities and other care providers, said providers would “struggle to respond to the survey” as they are “already under pressure to provide information as part of the SCCS”.
A spokeswoman said: “Providers have been told by HMRC to prioritise the SCCS and have also been informed that completing the SCCS will take up to a year, many have questioned the sense of sending out a further survey at this time, when much of the information sought in this survey could be obtained from completed SCCS returns.”
She said that smaller providers would particularly struggle to respond, and that the accuracy of the survey in turn could be compromised by these organisations not taking part.
The spokeswoman said providers had concerns about the “rushed nature” of the survey and questioned why such a short time frame had been allowed when the Deloitte survey, which took place over a similar timeframe, failed to provide the government with enough information to make its own assessment.
She said: “Collectively we lack confidence in the survey process based on both timings and the lack of transparency around the findings from the previous Deloitte survey.
“As part of our participation in this survey, we made collective representation for government to confirm that findings from both surveys will be made available, and a date for their publication. This has not been forthcoming.”
Civil Society News has asked DHSC whether it will be publishing the findings from either survey but it has yet to respond.
The #SolveSleepIns Alliance includes the Association for Real Change, Care England, Learning Disability England, Learning Disability Voices and the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group.