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Essential Tips for Controlling Agency Spend in Social Care
Blog //19-10-2023

Essential Tips for Controlling Agency Spend in Social Care

by Health and Care, OneAdvanced Public Sector

Would you say that you have found yourself turning to agencies more frequently in recent years? You wouldn’t be alone if you said yes. 54% of care providers have increased their agency use according to Care England's Sector Pulse Check 2023

And there is currently a 28.3% turnover rate in social care, according to newly published ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’ report by Skills for Care. For a provider of around 80 employees that would mean roughly 23 positions to constantly recruit for every year. So, although shocking, it’s not exactly surprising that more providers need to rely on short-term agency cover whilst they look to permanently fill these positions.

The 9.9% open vacancy rate in social care coupled with the turnover rate just mentioned (which rises to 45.9% for those with less than one year experience) and growing demand for care seems to be creating a perfect storm for an over reliance on expensive agencies.

In the same report by Skills for Care, the median hourly rate for a care worker is £10.11. And research conducted by Care England in 2021/22 found that an agency carer could be paid around £19.57. Seeing these figures helps us understand exactly why many in the sector are saying that the reliance on agency staff just isn’t sustainable.

But agency cover definitely has it’s time and place. So, what are the pros and cons of agency use in social care?

Pros of agency use in social care

  • Immediate staffing support

There will more than likely always be a need for good quality agency work within the social care sector. Agencies can be a real asset to fill last minute gaps in your workforce, as you already know. And having this quick access to additional support helps to prevent any service disruptions and ensure a smooth delivery of care for your clients.

  • Flexibility

Another advantage of agency work is the level of flexibility it offers. You may have turned to an agency to help cover unexpected surges in demand or vacancies within your workforce that you haven’t been able to recruit into fast enough. And this quick fix may be particularly beneficial when looking for support for any specialist care needs your clients may have.

  • Skill diversity

Agencies often have a pool of diverse and skilled professionals from various backgrounds. And that's great news for social care providers like yours because it means you can tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience. With each agency staff member bringing their own unique perspective, skills, and experiences, it can help enrich the quality of care provided.

Cons of agency use in social care

  • Increased costs

The often eye-watering cost of agency work is no new concept for many care providers. A Care England study found that 84% of providers are paying ‘higher’ or ‘significantly higher’ agency rates than previously. Perhaps at times, your organisations use of agencies has meant redirecting funds away from other investments.

The price differential between a permanent employee and an agency worker multiplied by the amount of cover required is extremely costly.  If your member of staff works a 35 hour week and the period you need to cover whilst you onboard a new employee is 4 weeks, that is 140 hours agency cover.  Based on the 28.3% turnover rate for a provider of 80 employees mentioned previously, that would equal around 3,170 extra hours of cover - these are costs that care providers can ill-afford, and minimising them could save providers thousands of pounds every year.

  • Lack of continuity

Social care has been defined as a low-paying industry by the Low Pay Commission (LPC) since 1998, according to Skills for Care. Meaning those working on permanent contracts are likely to be paid more doing the same work in the NHS or in a different industry altogether. This, coupled with the demanding and emotionally charged nature of the job fuels the turnover and vacancy rates we have already mentioned.

And when you haven’t got enough staff but of course demand for care doesn’t stop, you turn to agencies. Any change to the roster takes time to resource and schedule and care plan amendments can get lost in the shuffle – and if this last-minute agency cover affects your client’s experience with your service, that’s when care continuity can become compromised.

  • Reduced familiarity

When you’re struggling to fulfil commissioned hours with permanent staff, it can mean your clients are having to be supported by a series of new agency workers each day. And this can make building those long-term, valuable relationships difficult, as a lack of familiarity can lead to difficulties in understanding individual needs, preferences, and personalised care plans.

As the challenges around the social care workforce becomes more understood by the wider population, it may lead to some enquirers asking about your use of agency staff, using that as a consideration as to whether go with you or another care provider.

How you can reduce your reliance on agencies in social care

1. Develop recruitment and retention strategies

By attracting and retaining skilled professionals, you can work towards minimising your need for agency support. This is why developing effective recruitment and retention strategies is crucial.

60% of providers who took part in our Care Trends Report 2023 told us they struggle with a high number of unsuitable candidates. You may want to refresh your job descriptions and widen your recruitment pool with competitive packages. Speak with your current employees and ask what attracted them to your organisation as well as how you can ensure you are promoting a supportive work environment.

2. Focus on training and development

You may also be able to improve employee satisfaction by offering your employees training opportunities and development programs. This can equip them with the necessary knowledge and expertise to handle a wider range of responsibilities, helping to both empower your staff and reduce your need to turn to agencies for those skills and specialities.

3. Offer flexibility

More and more of us are looking for flexibility from our roles. Incorporating part-time or flexible working arrangements can help attract individuals seeking that work-life balance. And by having this extra flexibility, it can widen your recruitment pool to people who may not have had the opportunity to apply to your organisation in the past. Offering more flexibility can also help build a loyal and committed workforce, reducing your need to rely on external agencies to fill gaps in the schedule.

4. Invest in software

You can optimise your resources and make your administration processes more efficient when you invest in a care business management software solution. Digital tools can allow you to accurately forecast your staffing requirements, effectively schedule your regular, daily and ad-hoc roster, communicate with your teams remotely and create your own real-time reports for more informed decision making.

Care Cloud - our care business management software solution for all types of care provider - can give you the vital tools you need to forecast your business needs, prepare your current workforce and work proactively so you can reduce your reliance on expensive agencies. Speak with one of our experts today!


Updated January 2024

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Health and Care

Health and Care


OneAdvanced Public Sector

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