Care home offers bounty to fill beds

Roger Dobson investigates whether social workers are accepting commission for placing clients in private institutions
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The Independent Online
Prospect House is an ordinary property in a maze of small residential streets a mile or so from the centre of Cinderford, a town deep in the heart of the Forest of Dean. Unlike its neighbours, this house, with its green tiled roof and tarmac forecourt is no family home, but provides accommodation for a number of adults with learning difficulties - people who are vulnerable and who have problems with communication and concentration.

The privately run house has facilities for nine people with rates of up to pounds 500 a week each. But there are vacancies here, and the proprietor, Padmini Nissanga, wants to fill them.

And to try and fill them, as well as two other vacancies at a second home, she has taken the step of advertising to pay up to pounds 1,000 commission for successful introductions, a move that was yesterday condemned by social service chiefs, the charity Mencap, and the British Association of Social Workers. Gloucestershire Social Services in whose area Mrs Nissanga operates are also unhappy and an investigation is already underway.

The advertisement placed by Mrs Nissanga may well fuel fears that similar payments are being paid elsewhere, and although there is no evidence that this is so, she has told callers inquiring about her methods that social workers regularly take such payments.

The temptation for care home owners to offer "bounty" for client placements has grown in recent years as the number of private institutions competing for referrals has grown. Today there are 1,300 private homes looking after 14,000 people with learning difficulties in England and Wales, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year. In total, there are 10,000 private homes for all the different kinds of client groups.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Social Services said: "If any member of social services staff were found to have accepted money, that would constitute gross misconduct." He pointed out that all their placements in homes are made on a team basis rather than by an individual.

Mrs Nissanga explained her intentions and her methods of working in two telephone conversations with a caller asking about her fees.

These are extracts of two telephone conversations:

Caller: I'm ringing about your advertisement.

Padmini Nissanga: I have two residential homes for people with learning disabilities. I've got four vacancies at the moment.

Caller: Adults or children?

PN: Adults actually, age from 19 upwards. It is in Gloucestershire... I am looking for residents to fill the vacancies. Anybody you could introduce me I will pay up to pounds 1,000 fee for each client.

Caller: I haven't heard of this before. You've done it before have you?

PN: You mean the homes?

Caller: No, I mean the commission.

PN: I didn't do it but I did work for social services lasting two years in London and I know people who were doing that sort of business when I was working for social services.

Caller: You worked for social services?

PN: I did, but not now, now I am the proprietor for both homes. But when I was working in London I know there are a lot of social workers do private business like this.

Caller: What, social workers?

PN: Well social workers, like freelance agents, you know the nurses, because they have contacts with family friends and things like that, isn't it?.

Caller: How does it work if you are still working in social services, isn't there a problem?

PN: It is nothing to do with social services. I don't go and tell everybody of the ones who gave me a resident... It is irrelevant to me what is your job. This is your private business... If you work for social services it doesn't worry me...

Caller: You mean I could get commission from you even though I am working for social services?

PN: Oh yes, it doesn't worry me, I don't want to know where you work and you don't have to tell me because I will follow the right procedures... the client... the forms, and all that.

Caller: There is just something I am a little bit worried about.

PN: Tell me what is it.

Caller: If say I was a social worker it is going to be difficult for me because if anyone found out, I'd be in trouble.

PN: Oh, no, no, no. I'll put it this way, right? If you find out yes...This is why I put freelance, I don't want to know about your job or anything... you don't have to tell me to be honest with you... Only I need is the resident and his or her background and what sort of disabilities and that sort of thing...

Caller: That's all you want from me?

PN: Of course, yes... I will meet you somewhere I could give you cash. I don't even have to give you a cheque.

Caller: You'd give me cash?

PN: I give you cash because if you are working for social services, I can see, that is why I put freelance. It doesn't worry me because I'm advertising properly and if you wanted cash I could give you cash.

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