Blackpool care home: We can't afford to pay staff minimum wage

Care homes for mental health patients are facing closure amid a row over social care funding.

Friday, 16th February 2018, 8:26 am
Updated Friday, 16th February 2018, 8:30 am
Pro-Care Disperse Housing

Some staff face losing their jobs while residents are having to be re-homed.Dozens of people with serious mental health conditions face being re-homed by the council in a row over fees with a private company.

Pro-Care Disperse Housing in Blackpool says it is being forced to close by a combination of ‘inadequate’ funding and a ruling that sleeping care staff have to be paid minimum wage.

Some 28 residents housed across the resort have been affected, while 25 workers have been told their jobs are lost, the company’s director – who admitted failing to pay some workers the minimum wage – said.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Anand Seedheeyan, 64, said he had been at loggerheads with the council over funding for five years.

He told The Gazette: “We can’t run at a loss. We had to make this sad decision.”

It comes at a time mental health services in the resort – and further afield – are coming under increasing pressure, while Mr Seedheeyan said his firm helped keep people out of hospital.

Blackpool Council’s health and adult services boss, Coun Amy Cross, said its social care team had been trying to reach a ‘mutually-agreeable resolution’ with Pro-Care for a ‘number of months’.

She said: “We will continue to support both the organisation and the residents affected in any way possible to make sure there is a continued delivery of care and support.

“Health and social care teams are working together to make this as easy as possible.

“The safety and wellbeing of the residents involved is our primary concern.”

She said ‘all options’ were being considered to resolve the situation, adding: “We are doing all we can to help those involved during this period.”

Pro-Care, which was set up in February 1996, has five homes in Blackpool registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Four – Chesterfield Lodge, Clevedon Lodge, Sherbourne Lodge, and Clifford Lodge – have room for six people, the health watchdog said, while Avondale Lodge can house seven.

One worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the residents at the five homes, which cater specifically for people with mental health issues, are all men, mostly aged 40 to 60. Some have already been moved by the council, with all due to be re-homed by next week, she said.

“Some have been here for 20 years and this is their home, and this is their family,” she said, describing the impact of the business’s closure as ‘detrimental to their mental health’.

“It’s taking their life away from them. It’s major – it’s going to affect their recoveries.”

She said workers were given letters and called into meetings to tell them of their fate. Some, she claimed, are owed thousands of pounds in backpay. She added: “We’re going to be under stress and pressure but we will find something in time. We have families that rely on us.”

Last year, care providers warned of an industry crisis with the taxman reportedly chasing firms for payments going back six years, following a ruling that workers should be paid minimum wage for hours spent sleeping at homes while on call.

It came after a tribunal said charity Mencap must pay one of its staff minimum wage instead of a fixed rate of £29.05. The rate at Pro-Care, according to the worker, was £20.

“The council has not funded us to do that,” Mr Seedheeyan said. “The fees were inadequate as it was.”

He accepted he had not paid his staff minimum wage for hours spent sleeping, but said: “The council should have paid us, and we would pay the staff.”

He said he understands his employees’ frustration at losing their jobs, adding: “I will be upset as well.”

Mr Seedheeyan’s long-time business partner Islamuddeen Duymun, who runs the Parkhaven care home in Gorse Road, said he too will be forced to close within the next month unless funding goes up. That would see three women with mental illnesses re-housed and three people made redundant, he said.

Blackpool Council said it had already re-homed one person, while Mr Duymun said Lancashire County Council (LCC) is responsible for the other three. He said both companies are struggling to cover their costs – and also admitted not paying his staff minimum wage for sleeping over.

“We cannot pay,” he added. “The staff understand we are trying to get more money from the council. I’m breaking the law but the council is making me because I told them I needed more money.”

He said the impact on residents who face being moved or made homeless would be ‘massive’ but hopes a resolution can be found.

“It’s reversible if we can get the fees so we can continue to operate,” he said.

“I was earmarked to close last Friday but I could not allow these residents to walk the streets or be moved somewhere that is not appropriate. I gave them the lifeline of another four weeks.”

Tony Pounder, director of adult services for LCC, said a ‘small number of women’ were affected, adding: “We are working closely with those individuals to relocate them to alternative and appropriate settings that can fully meet their long term needs. We are also working with Parkhaven’s management to ensure this is done at a pace that is sensitive and appropriate for each of the women.”

It is understood Pro-Care has asked Blackpool Council for £618.61 per week per resident, while it currently gets £434.14, the same amount the county council pays.

That equates to £2,604.84 per home per week, based on six residents, while The Gazette was told staffing and rent alone cost £2,240.

Blackpool Council said it paid £310.05 per resident per week in 2013/14, with rates set to rise again from April to £449.05. The national minimum wage in 2013 was £6.31 per hour, and goes up to £7.83 from April.

Mr Duymun said ‘quite a few’ residents were going to old people’s homes – some in supported living accommodation and others in care homes for the elderly.

'Staff must be paid fairly’

Kevin Lucas, North West regional manager at union Unison, said: “Care staff perform very valuable work and they should be paid fairly. There should be no question of care staff getting less than the legal minimum wage and employers should always meet their obligations.

“We are working with councils across the north west to encourage them to insist on better employment and service standards from private care providers when they commission services.”