Changes threaten viability of Home Care Packages

It’s been framed as an improvement for aged care workers, but a decision to increase their hours may backfire on clients.

Fair Work Australia has announced that from 1 July all workers under the Social and Community Services Award (SCSA) will be paid for a minimum of two hours and social and community services employees will be paid for a minimum of three hours.

The changes were designed to create ‘reasonable conditions’ for workers in the disability sector as previously the award did not include any minimum payments for the part-time employees who make up the bulk of the sector’s workforce. The changes were also intended to cover workers’ travel time to clients and any breaks required.

The new rules will affect workers employed to deliver Home Care Packages, which are designed to support people in their homes. About 200,000 Australians use Home Care Packages.

Read: Experts tell why aged care is ‘so expensive’

However, as many clients need only one-hour visits, or even half-hour visits, there is increasing unease as to how the system will work in reality and how it will be funded.

Owner and director of aged care provider Home Instead Giovanni Siano told the ABC the changes could have “disastrous consequences”.

“A caregiver can do potentially up to six visits a day. Now, with the introduction of the two-hour minimum engagement, the same caregiver can only do three visits a day,” he said.

Mr Siano said the changes also did not consider how clients would pay for the changes.

“They’re already on a budget. They’ve been relying on those multiple visits a week and now, all of a sudden, that will be halved.”

Read: Aged care sector needs reforms, not judgement

NDIS training and consulting group DSC Consultants said it was unavoidable that the changes would cost money.

“In a perfect world, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) would increase the hourly rate to reflect the additional costs to providers with these changes and everything would be equal for participants,” the group said in a statement.

“But the NDIA has a habit of making providers and participants share the costs of these adjustments.

“Typically, it does this by increasing prices after a significant delay, only going part of the way, or changing what providers can charge without increasing participants’ budgets accordingly.”

Read: Too many people fail to plan for aged care. Don’t be one of them

DSC said the changes could significantly reduce the affordability of some services.

“The requirements for a minimum two-hour shift and paying workers for all contacts made between shifts would seriously eat into participants’ budgets.

“Unless the NDIA finds a way to absorb these changes into its pricing models, this will result in increased costs for providers that are already running on fairly thin margins.”

There is also concern that to cover the increased hours, more workers will be needed in an industry that is struggling to attract staff – especially as the federal government has pledged $6.5 billion to fund an extra 80,000 packages.

Industry group Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Paul Sadler told The Guardian the sector was already suffering a serious workforce shortage prior to the pandemic.

“Attracting home care and other aged care workers has become even more difficult through the pressure of the past two years.”

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Written by Jan Fisher

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