Charities call on Commission chair to intervene in sleep-in crisis

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Sector leaders have called on Charity Commission chair Baroness Stowell to intervene in the sleep-in crisis facing social care charities.

Some 34 organisations signed a letter sent to Stowell last Thursday, calling on her to raise the issue with the government herself. These include infrastructure bodies such as Acevo and NCVO, and leading social care charities such as Mencap and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The letter warns that from November the social care sector will become eligible to pay up to £400m back-pay liability to overnight sleep-in shift workers historically paid below the minimum wage.

Over 1,000 organisations have signed up to the government’s Social Care Compliance Scheme, launched last November, which requires organisations to assess their own back-pay liability within 12 months.

From November this year, organisations that signed up to the programme immediately after its launch will be required to repay any wage arrears to workers within three months.

The sector representatives say in the letter that this requirement will have a “catastrophic effect […] on charitable organisations who provide vital statutory care”.

The letter references Stowell’s first speech as Commission chair in which she pledged to “represent the public interest to charities”. It says the sleep-in crisis is a matter of public interest so falls within her brief.

It says: “We sincerely believe that people we support, their families and the wider public expect these crucial services for our most vulnerable citizens to be maintained. As such we respectfully ask for your support, and that of the Commission to enable us to fulfil this expectation.

“Could we ask you to raise this matter urgently with government, so as to represents the public interest in this matter?”

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that we have received the letter, are considering its contents and will respond in due course.”

Ongoing costs

On top of concerns about the effects of the back-pay liability, social care providers have also been calling for government to fund the ongoing higher costs of paying sleep-in shift workers the national minimum wage instead of a flat-rate fee.

The letter references a recent survey commissioned by the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), which found that social care providers have decided not to bid or negotiate for 273 new contracts because of uncertainty over this funding.

The survey also found that 68 per cent of providers said there would be a threat to the viability of their organisation if they were made to pay six years’ back-pay to sleep-in shift workers.

John Cooper, a spokesperson for umbrella organisation Learning Disability Voices (LDV), told Civil Society News that he was hopeful of some form of government intervention soon following recent comments in the House of Commons by health and social care minister Caroline Dinenage.

On 8 May, Dinenage said in a debate on learning disabilities: “We will be coming forward with some proposals on sleep-ins shortly”.

In a written answer last week, Dinenage said she intended to meet LDV “soon to discuss their concerns”.

She said: “The government recognises the pressure that sleep-ins liabilities are placing on the social care sector and is exploring options to minimise any impact on the sector.”

Cooper said that while the Department for Health and Social Care had ultimate responsibility for funding of the back-pay, the issue required a cross-governmental response.

He said: “As well as getting the very powerful voice of the head of the Charity Commission involved, we are also hoping to bring in yet another government department, to bring it up to six.”

Mencap case

A legal case with potentially huge implications for the sleep-in crisis, Royal Mencap Society vs Tomlinson-Blake, was heard in March in the Court of Appeal, with judges expected to return a decision imminently.

However, Cooper said he thought a ruling in favour of Mencap would not solve the sleep-in crisis.

He said: “I’ve been in meetings with working groups where HMRC officials have been there and they have said to us ‘Regardless of the Mencap case, we will continue to pursue this liability.’

“I think it would be wrong to say that if Mencap win their case, this problem will go away. What we need is some clarity from the government, both a solution and very clearly what care workers should receive and what they are going to do about this back-pay liability.

“Even going forward, many local authorities are not paying sleep-ins at national living wage. For the last 18 months, charities have been paying the living wage but have been running at a loss because local authorities haven’t paid it.”

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