What impact will the regulation of supported living have?

What impact will the regulation of supported living have?

What effect will the regulation of supported accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds have on those who provide care and those who receive it? Francesca Snape, associate at Markel Law, analyses the changes.

Following a review of children’s social care published in 2022, Ofsted now requires providers of supported accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds to apply for registration. Read more about the changes and how the landscape has changed.

The recommendations were clearly welcomed by the government, and were fairly uncontroversial when considering the feedback received during the course of the review. Looking back, it is difficult to see how care providers for some of society’s most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds were able to operate without regulation for so long.

The increased safety of regulation and the hope that it will drive up standards for care leavers is clearly a positive outcome of these changes. Of course, there will have been many providers who were already operating to high standards and basing their operations on the expectations of similar already-regulated services, such as children’s homes or adult social care settings. However, formally bringing supported living within the scope of registration means that there will hopefully be better oversight and regulation of these services.

A steep learning curve?

For the providers now required to register with Ofsted, it could prove a steep learning curve for some, particularly if they have never operated a regulated provision before. Ofsted have, in recent years, hardened their approach to the registration of children’s homes, issuing critical and, in some cases, puzzling reasoning for refusing registration. It remains to be seen whether a similar approach will be taken with registration of supported accommodation. However, if such an approach is taken and/or providers find themselves being issued with a Notice of Proposal to refuse registration, it is important that they seek urgent legal advice.

The implications of a decision to refuse registration will not only impact the future viability of the service – and therefore the home of the young persons they may be supporting at that time – but it may also prevent the provider from operating a similar business in the future. Ofsted will identify where there are similar directors for a company that makes an application in the future, and may refer back to the previous decision to refuse. This can be a barrier to future attempts to register, particularly if safeguarding concerns were raised.

In some circumstances, there are quick fixes that can be made to address the concerns highlighted in Ofsted’s decision and it may be appropriate to challenge. However, it is often the case that the period required to address the issues is longer than that which is afforded to challenge Ofsted’s decision. It may therefore be in a provider’s interests to withdraw the application and re-apply once the issues have been addressed. This is an important decision and one which should be informed by specialist advice.

The inspection process will also be new to supported living providers who have not operated a registered setting before. These are sometimes the undoing of new providers, who are often still embedding processes and procedures to comply with the care standards and regulations.

Looking ahead

Ofsted intends to consult on proposals for the inspection methodology for supported living settings this summer. Pilot inspections are planned to take place in Autumn 2023, with a view to inspections beginning in April 2024. Providers are strongly recommended to seek the advice and support of a suitably qualified consultant within their first year of operation and once Ofsted have released details of the inspection methodology, to ensure that any teething issues are ironed out ahead of the first inspection.

Overall, the changes are positive for children in care, but buy-in and dedication from supported living providers will be needed in order to best navigate the new regulatory landscape.