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By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service

Much of the debate following the budget has focused on whether the government has struck the right balance between stimulating growth and controlling the deficit, which is critical given the challenging times in which we live.

Key changes which will have far reaching impact for all of us are the reforms to the financing of social care. We examine what the measures mean for individuals and organisations, and the critical role for customer service. The budget set out proposals for a cap on the amount an individual will pay for social care. At ¬£72,000, this is significantly higher than the ¬£35,000 recommended by the Dilnot Commission. The cap is combined with a more generous ‘means test’ for residents in care homes, meaning that anyone with assets of up to ¬£118,000 will be entitled to some state funding towards the cost of their care, even before they have reached the new ¬£72,000 lifetime cap. The cap still leaves many individuals with responsibility for care costs of up to ¬£72,000, but arguably it marks a decisive step towards making social care more affordable, and giving people a degree of reassurance that all their assets won’t be swallowed up by costly care bills.

As the ageing population continues to increase, the demand for affordable social care looks set to grow. The King’s Fund has reported that costs of the current system will rise from ¬£6.7 billion in 2011 to ¬£12.1 billion in 2026, a bill that under the proposed reforms will be met jointly by individuals, and the public purse. This raises an important question, when both individuals and the government will be required to commit significant resources to social care, how will we ensure value for money and ongoing high standards of care, especially as 80% of care providers are independent organisations?

Care providers will be charged with attracting customers, in the first instance, and then offering consistent levels of care to gain further backing from the government. They will therefore have to prove their abilities in order to grow and develop. The Care Quality Commission and recent research into the NHS has brought the importance of standards sharply into focus. The Commission currently assesses 18,000 care homes for essential standards of quality and safety. The essential standards set a foundation which can be developed.

But how will individuals and their families know how to assess the level of quality offered by care providers? How will the government know that the taxpayer is receiving value for money through provision of high quality care? And how will care providers themselves know how the quality of service they provide compares to competitors?

A transparent and nationally recognised benchmarking framework, based on customer feedback, would provide individual customers with relevant information about the performance of care providers, as well as giving care organisations a means of reviewing their service, highlighting strengths and areas for improvement, such as providing specialised training and qualifications for staff. A minimum standard of care is a basic requirement, but if the UK is to develop a social care market is both affordable and promotes high quality, it is vital that accessible information is available which helps customers make informed choices.

Everyone deserves dignity and a decent standard of care in old age. In a competitive market environment a key ingredient to achieving this is customer- focused benchmarking which measures quality of service and drives continuous improvement.

Jo Causon

Jo joined The Institute as its CEO in 2009. She has driven membership growth by 150 percent and established the UK Customer Satisfaction Index as the country’s premier indicator of consumer satisfaction, providing organisations with an indicator of the return on their service strategy investment.

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