New Social Services Regulatory Framework in Victoria


This article applies to social service providers and will likely form a new topic.

Social Services Regulation Bill 2021 (Vic)

Please be advised that the Social Services Regulation Bill 2021 (Vic) (the Bill) passed Parliament on 16 September 2021 and received Royal Assent on 21 September 2021.  The Bill is due to commence on 31 December 2023 unless proclaimed earlier.  The Bill creates a new regulatory framework, administered by the new Social Services Regulator (the Regulator), that will support safe delivery of social services and aim to protect users of social services from harm, neglect and abuse.

Background

The new framework introduced by the Bill is designed to cover services that are identified as having common risks and to allow additional service types with similar risks to be brought into scope over time.  Specifically, the framework is intended to capture out of home care services for children and young people and other community services, disability services that are not covered by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, supported residential services, family violence services, sexual assault services and homeless services.  The precise details of the service types in scope are to be set out in regulations following consultation with affected groups including service providers and service users.

The key changes under the Bill include a new registration system for social service providers, new social services standards, a new worker and carer exclusion scheme and new notification requirements for providers.  Details of the changes are outlined below.

Registration of social service providers

Under Part 3 of the Bill, a person or body will need to be registered under the scheme before they can deliver a social service.  Failing to be registered will be an offence carrying a penalty of 1200 penalty units (currently $218,088).  The registration process provides the Regulator with a key preventative opportunity to mitigate significant risks of harm, with providers to be assessed for registration based on the Regulator’s assessment of core capabilities and capacity to provide for the safety of service users.

Social Services Standards

Part 4 of the Bill introduces new Social Services Standards (the Standards).  The Bill places obligations on registered social service providers to comply with the Standards in the delivery of the social services for which they are registered.  The Standards are outcome based and focused on ensuring safe service delivery and protecting the human rights of service users.  The Standards include:

  • Safe service delivery: Social services are to be safely delivered based on assessed needs.
  • Service user agency and dignity: Social services are to be person‐centred and respect and uphold service user rights and agency.
  • Safe service environment: Social services are to be provided in a safe, secure and fit‐for‐purpose environment.
  • Feedback and complaints: Service users are to be supported to provide feedback, complaints or concerns about service safety.
  • Accountable organisational governance: Effective governance and organisational systems are to support safe delivery of social services.
  • Safe workforce: Social services are to be delivered by a workforce that has the knowledge, capability and support to deliver safe social services with care and skill.

It is important to note that the Bill further introduces a criminal offence where there has been an aggravated contravention of the duty to comply with the Standards.  A registered social service provider will commit an offence if, without lawful excuse, the provider knowingly, intentionally or recklessly contravenes the Standards and the contravention results in serious harm to, or is likely to result in serious harm to, a service user.

A maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment or 1200 penalty units (currently $218,088) in the case of an individual and 6000 penalty units (currently $1,090,440) in the case of a body corporate will apply.

Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme

The Bill provides for a new Worker and Carer Exclusion Scheme (WCES), which will be administered by the Regulator, replacing the current Carers Register and independent investigations model. The new WCES will address gaps in the current regulation of workers and carers which places vulnerable (particularly children and young people) at risk of abuse.  The scheme will allow for certain workers to be excluded from performing high-risk roles for or on behalf of certain service providers where a worker’s conduct shows they pose an unjustifiable risk of harm to service users.  Importantly, workers and carers will no longer need to be registered, but instead, service organisations will be obligated to check whether a worker is on the excluded worker list before they are engaged.

If a provider knowingly employs or engages a person without receiving a database check from the Regulator, a penalty of 1200 penalty units (currently $218,088) in the case of a body corporate or 240 penalty units (currently $43,617.60) in any other case will apply.

Notification requirements

The Bill sets out new requirements for registered social service providers to notify the Regulator of certain organisational matters relating to their registration, such as changes to the volume and type of social service provided, staffing changes that materially impact service delivery, changes to information provided on registration.  A maximum penalty of 20 penalty units (currently $3,634.80) for an individual and 100 penalty units (currently $18,174) for a body corporate will apply.

Importantly, the Bill stipulates that a registered social service provider, as soon as reasonably practicable, will need to notify the Regulator of any serious incident that has occurred, or may pose a serious risk to service users during the delivery of a social service.  A maximum penalty of 60 penalty units (currently $10,904.40) for an individual and 300 penalty units (currently $54,522) for a body corporate will apply.

Serious incident includes:

  • an incident that results in serious harm to a service user or WCES service user;
  • an incident that is reasonably likely to cause serious harm to a service user or WCES service user;
  • any other incident that is prescribed by the regulations.

Supported residential services

Finally, the Bill will regulate the operation of supported residential services.  These provisions are re-enacted from the Supported Residential Services (Private Proprietors) Act 2010 (Vic) to ensure that residents in supported residential services have no reduction in rights and protections as a result of the establishment of the new Regulator.

Please click here to access the full Bill.


Contact

For further information please contact the Law Compliance team:

Phone: 1300 862 667

Email: info@lawcompliance.com.au