Brexit and the homecare sector

Like it or loathe it, Brexit is a reality which homecare providers are factoring into their planning. This update coincides with the UK’s departure from the European Union at 11pm on Friday, 31 January 2020.

The most significant potential impact of Brexit for homecare providers is the future availability of the workforce.  Around 18% of people in the homecare workforce join us from outside the UK.  They make an invaluable contribution to home-based support for older and disabled people.

Little changes for homecare providers this year, as there is a ‘transition period’, where current conditions for business and travel for UK citizens and those of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) continue to apply until 31 December 2020.  See the UK Government website.

During the transition period, there are no changes for those who are non-British non-EU citizens.  Meanwhile, citizens of the European Union, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland can apply to live and work in the UK after the end of the transition period. People who already have a ‘UK permanent residence document’ or other leave to remain will also be able to stay in the UK after the transition period.  An on-line questionnaire helps people work out whether they need to make an application, based on their individual circumstances.  See “Continue to live in the UK after it leaves the EU”.

UKHCA recommends that homecare providers continue to encourage members of their workforce (and their families) who are eligible to join the EU Settlement Scheme to do so.  This will give them either ‘settled’ or ‘pre-settled’ status, depending on whether a person has five years’ continuous residence in the UK.  Those who receive ‘pre-settled’ status will usually be able to gain ‘settled status’ once they have met the qualifying period.  There is clearly written guidance about the EU Settlement Scheme on-line. Employers should ensure  they understand how the scheme operates and make support available to workers who may need it in order to apply.

Meanwhile, the UK Government is currently developing its post-Brexit migration policy.  On 28 January 2020, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) made recommendations to Government on a number of issues, including the development of a points-based system, similar to that operating in Australia.  The Government is currently considering MAC’s advice.

If Government follows MAC’s advice without making any specific arrangements for social care employers, such as adding social care workers to a shortage occupation list, or rewarding additional points for non-British nationals joining the social care workforce, it is unlikely the majority of homecare providers would be able to actively recruit front-line workers from outside the United Kingdom under a ‘points-based’ system.

UKHCA is one of the 36 employer organisations from social care and health which form the Cavendish Coalition. We are working together to influence Government’s development of the final policy.  The Chair of the Cavendish Coalition has recently met with the Home Secretary to discuss post-Brexit migration policy.

As things stand at the moment, homecare providers should assume that at the end of the transition period they will need to recruit from people in the UK’s resident labour market.  We know this is already difficult and the competition for workers from the domestic workforce will increase.

MAC has told Government that the solution to the recruitment problems in social care will not be solved by migration policy, but by finding a solution to the funding of care.  Whether one agrees with MAC’s conclusions or not, homecare providers need to ensure that they can offer terms and conditions of employment (including, but not limited to, pay), which will enable them to compete effectively in their local labour market.  This is challenging for everyone, but particularly those providers which are heavily dependent on state-funded purchase.

This month we published UKHCA’s Minimum Price for Homecare. We encourage providers to share that briefing with council and NHS Commissioners, pointing out the increasing need to cover costs, in order to maintain viable local provider markets for people using state-funded services.  In an increasingly competitive labour market councils and the NHS need to understand (and pay) rates which are financially sustainable.  Our calculation provides a minimum level of funding, so in many parts of the country, a rate significantly higher will be needed.  Providers need to demand open and transparent cost-of-care exercises from their local councils and be willing to participate in them when offered.

There will continue to be several months of uncertainty about the UK’s future migration policy.  If negotiations during the transition period are unsuccessful, or if a new migration policy is not implemented by January 2021, then a European Temporary Leave to Remain (or “Euro TLR”) has previously been proposed by Government and might be introduced.  If enacted, it would enable EU citizens to live and work in the UK for up to 36 months.

Providers need to make plans on the best evidence that they have. Investing in workforce terms and conditions and ensuring that they have a client base and range of contracts to support this investment to enable them to recruit the right workforce in the future will be vital.

Disclaimer: Information in this briefing was accurate at the time of writing (31 January 2020) and is intended to be general information, rather than specific legal advice.  Readers are advised to take suitable advice for their individual circumstances.