SOMERSET carers who welcome vulnerable people into their own homes are hitting out against changes to funding which could see them paid less for their time.

Somerset County Council decided to transfer its ‘shared lives’ service to charity Shared Lives South West at a meeting earlier this year.

From October 14, the charity began its two-year contract for around 150 people who were supported by the council scheme.

Carers around the county open their homes to the service users, who may have learning disabilities or face other challenges.

But as the changes set in, the service users are left paying more, while the carers could see a reduction in their rates under the new ‘banding’ system.

In exchange for their 24-hour support, the carers were paid a block sum of £400 a week, which is broken into three parts: rent, household costs, and care and support.

According to Andy Jones, a carer based in Wellington, rent and household costs are paid for by the service user, whether that’s through benefits or out of their own pocket, which previously stood at £65 and £53 respectively.

With the new Shared Lives contract in place, service users will be paying a total of £171 for rent and household costs - an increase of £53. Carers got paid £282 a week by the council under ‘care and support’ - which pays them for their time.

Within the charity’s new banding system, carers for the more ‘independent’ service users, i.e. on the lowest band, would receive £165 for care and support, and the top band - for ‘complex’ service users - would receive £360.

The medium band is £218 and the high band £270. This means in all but one of the bands, the carers would see a reduction in their care and support fees.

Mr Jones said: “The aim of the scheme is to promote independence, but under the new system, you’re penalised for having independent service users. There’s no incentive to do a good job.

“Next year everyone will be reviewed. There was no consultation before it was decided.

“If the council had to pay for other care solutions, it would cost them a lot more.

“Shared Lives is a form of care and support. It’s far better than any other type of support and it’s constantly under-valued.

“Some carers might not be able to afford to do it anymore.

“Imagine telling someone who has lived with you for years they have to leave their home. Those changes will have a lasting impact.”

For carers already in the system, they will see no changes for around 12 months, but new service users entering the system will be put straight into the banding system.

Carers will also now receive two weeks of ‘respite leave’, but not until they are taking part in the banding system.

SCC says the new banding system is a ‘fairer’ payment structure, and the prices are ‘comparable’ to fees paid in places such as Devon and Cornwall, where the charity also runs.

In two other authorities where the service is still council-led, the fees are (inclusive of rent and household costs) £362-£620 for North Somerset, and £375-£525 for Dorset, with the new range being £336-£531 for SCC’s carers.

A spokesperson said: “We really appreciate the role all our Shared Lives carers play. They do an incredible job helping people lead more independent lives and we have moved to Shared Lives South West to extend that life-changing support to more people with a wider range of needs.

“The new banding system means some people will receive slightly more and some slightly less. This is seen as a fairer payment structure and is one that SLSW has operated successfully across the region.”