The aged care sector is warning almost half of the nation’s home care providers will be increasing fees by up to 20% after a new two-hour minimum shift for carers comes into force on Friday, prompting complaints from older Australians and advocates.
Home care helps more than 200,000 older Australians stay at home, which is critical in relieving pressure on Australia’s residential aged care system and ensuring independence for the nation’s aging population.
From Friday, a new set of rules on home carer pay will cause a considerable shake-up in the sector. A Fair Work Commission review of the award covering home care workers ruled that part-time and casual home care workers must be paid for a minimum two-hour shift.
Employers must now pay employees a broken shift allowance when their hours are split across a day.
The changes are designed to attract workers to a chronically understaffed sector.
But providers say the financial difficulties in the sector have forced them to increase fees to cope, much to the frustration of advocates.
Stuart Miller, the chief executive of the country’s biggest home care provider, myHomecare Group, said the Fair Work Commission’s decision would make home care work more attractive and reward fatigued care workers.
Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning.
But he said the change – coupled with an increase in the minimum wage and a commitment by the government only to increase aged care subsidies by 1.7% in 2022-23 – would cause increased fees for home care recipients.
“Unfortunately, we will see our clients suffer in all of this as there will need to be corresponding price increases to offset these costs, which ultimately could make a living at home more difficult for some,” he said.
“The subsidy increase being only 1.7% will still see many of these pricing increases rolled over to the client’s care.”
myHomecare is not alone in warning of higher fees. The Aged & Community Care Providers Association (ACCPA), a peak body, surveyed its home care provider members and found almost half were expecting to increase their fees. The increases will be up to 20%, the association said.
The Council on the Ageing’s chief executive, Ian Yates, said complaints about the fee increases were already flowing through to his organization.
“It seems to me in most cases that it is not reasonable,” Yates told the Guardian. “We’re also getting the classic situation of providers just announcing changes [to consumers], and the department has been very clear, you can’t just change things without consent or agreement. It would help if you had an agreed care plan.
“There are providers who are doing this well. But there are many for whom the notion that services are co-designed with consumers is still alien to them.”
He said some providers falsely claimed they could now only provide two-hour care sessions to each recipient, which was wrong in most cases because most cared for multiple clients in a single shift.
“This is about minimum shifts, and many of the staff have much longer than two-hour shifts because they’re servicing manydaily in a day,” he said. “Some of it is also just some providers are bloody-minded.”
Recent data shows that two-thirds of aged care providers were at a loss. ACCPA’s interim chief executive, Paul Sadler, said the government must increase funding to the sector to ensure care is not compromised.
“In many cases, the new award provision can be accommodated through rostering that ensures an employee can move between home care clients over the minimum two-hour shift or portion of a broken shift,” he said.
“However, this may not always be possible, for example, in rural or remote areas, where the client needs a particular employee, or where care is required at a particular time outside peak service periods.”