Last week I provided guidance to those wanting to understand more about the requirements for registration for supported accommodation for a looked after child or a care leaver aged 16 or 17, particularly in light of this becoming mandatory on 28 October 2023. This week I have provided further guidance on Ofsted’s powers of inspection and enforcement action in respect of supported accommodation services.
Ofsted have confirmed that they will carry out inspections and monitoring visits from April 2024, however many aspects of how this will look has not yet been confirmed. A consultation was carried out between July – September 2023 and this was an opportunity for providers, children, care leavers, and the wider sector to give their views on proposals relating to inspection outcomes, the notice we give for inspections and the main features of effective supported accommodation. The outcome of this consultation is due to be published in February 2024.
What has been agreed already?
Ofsted have already confirmed that they will inspect at provider level, meaning that the registered service will be inspected, rather than the individual premises under that service. This goes hand in hand with how a provider is registered (i.e. the service is registered, rather than each address).
Ofsted have also confirmed that they will inspect each provider at least once in a three-year cycle, although will return earlier to weaker providers (as early as six months). This means that there is significantly less oversight of supported accommodation than children’s homes, who are inspected in a 12-month cycle.
Finally, Ofsted will carry out inspections under the Social Care Common Inspection Framework (SCCIF), as they consider that the principles set out within this framework are applicable and will guide Ofsted during inspections.
What are the proposals?
Whilst the outcome of the consultation has not yet been confirmed, Ofsted’s proposals relating to inspections can be summarised as follows:
- That three areas will be assessed at inspection, mirroring the areas covered for children’s homes. These areas are:
- The overall experiences and progress of children
- how well children are helped and protected
- the effectiveness of leaders and managers
- Ofsted do not intend to use the usual four-point scale for graded judgements for supported accommodation inspections. They instead propose to reach one of three conclusions:
- Consistently strong service delivery leads to typically positive experiences and progress for children. Where improvements are needed, leaders and managers take timely and effective action.
- Inconsistent quality of service delivery adversely affects children’s experiences and limits their progress. Leaders and managers must make improvements.
- Serious or widespread weaknesses lead to significant concerns about the experiences and progress of children. Leaders and managers must take urgent action to address failings.
- Monitoring visits will be carried out where necessary to assess progress.
- Ofsted should give two working days’ notice of inspection to providers.
Whilst providers have an idea of what inspections for this sector might look like, this is likely to evolve over the coming years as more services are inspected.
Ofsted will take action against a registered provider or manager if they have concerns about their ability to meet the requirements of registration. For example, a provider could be consistently receiving poor feedback at inspections, or a specific incident could have occurred that led to a concern arising about the provider’s ability to provide safe care.
As with other Ofsted registered provisions, the types of enforcement actions that can be taken against providers and registered managers are wide ranging and include:
- imposing or varying conditions of registration
- making a recommendation or requirement
- serving compliance notices
- suspending a registration
- restricting accommodation
- cancelling a registration.
The enforcement powers available do not have to be used consecutively or in any order, however often a provider will have been issued with requirements and/or compliance notices before Ofsted take a more extreme step such as cancellation of registration.
Ofsted can also use more than one type of enforcement action at the same time, for example they can suspend the registration of a provider and also cancel their registration. This will depend upon the concerns that have been raised about the provision.
Some enforcement actions allow periods for written representations, whereby a provide will receive a ‘notice of proposal’ first. Written representations can make a huge difference to the proposed action and there are strict timescales involved, therefore if you find yourself in this position, it is imperative that you seek legal advice at the first opportunity.
Most enforcement actions carry a right of appeal before the first-tier tribunal. Again, there are strict timescales involved and therefore it is important that advice is sought immediately.
How can we help?
Our specialist Ofsted lawyers regularly assist providers in respect of inspections and enforcement action taken by Ofsted, please visit our case studies page to find out more about how we’ve helped social care providers with challenging inspections and enforcement action. If you require assistance, please contact us on 0161 696 6250 or complete our online enquiry form for a confidential discussion with a member of our team.