The representative body for the housing-with-care sector, ARCO (Associated Retirement Community Operators), has launched a new edition of its standing-setting Consumer Code for members, providing the platform for the Government to introduce sector-specific regulation.
The 2021 edition of the ARCO Consumer Code, which follows previous editions published in 2015 and 2017, upholds the principles of transparency and fairness for the housing-with-care sector, building on consumer law to give customers and residents confidence that ARCO's members achieve high levels of consumer protection in marketing, sales and lettings, and resident relations.
The Code is launched at time of renewed interest in the housing-with-care sector in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with older people having benefited from the 24/7 onsite staffing, CQC-registered domiciliary care available, and social connections with staff and residents.
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, ARCO has adapted its standards and compliance work to complete assessments at 56 different Retirement Communities over the last year, which together provide a home for over 6,000 residents.
ARCO's work to guide members has evolved alongside the code, for example through a practice note on online and distance sales and marketing, and a new series of e-learning modules on different areas of ARCO compliance.
By setting high standards for housing-with-care both before and during COVID-19, the Consumer Code plays a vital role for a sector that currently lacks any specific regulation, in stark contrast to other countries where the housing-with-care sector has seen stronger growth such as New Zealand, Australia and the US. Currently, there is very little consumer protection for prospective residents in non-ARCO schemes, who are not bound by the Consumer Code.
With Ministers indicating that they are considering setting up a cross-government task force to help spur the growth of housing-with-care in the UK, the new ARCO Consumer Code provides an important benchmark for developing sector-specific regulation through this new political vehicle.
"The launch of the 2021 ARCO Consumer Code will help ensure the highest standards are met by all of ARCO's housing-with-care operators, bringing confidence to consumers and residents, and creating a benchmark for sector-specific regulation," said Sally Ireland, Barrister and Head of Regulation and Compliance at ARCO.
"At ARCO we're always re-evaluating our standards programme to support members in their vital work with older people, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges that our revised code and guidance help overcome.
"We're pleased that the Government is considering ways to help support our sector, including through a cross-department task force, which would provide the platform to build on our Consumer Code and implement consumer protection regulation."
Jeremy Walford, Chair of the ARCO Standards Committee and Managing Director of Middleton Hall, added "Transparency and fairness are the key tenets of the 2021 ARCO Consumer Code, which we are proud to launch so that consumers and residents across the country can be fully confident in choosing housing-with-care.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly created challenges for the sector but we've risen to these, and ARCO's standards and compliance work has adapted and evolved for our new times.
"We would now urge the Government to implement the proposal for a cross-department task force so that the policies can be put in place – including sector-specific consumer protection regulation – to transform housing-with-care provision and bring its benefits to hundreds of thousands more older people."