Police investigate Hastings-based agencies Reports. Emma Harwood

Locally-based employment agencies which supplied staff to care homes in the Hastings area are being investigated for modern slavery crimes. The agencies are alleged to have been recruiting workers from Eastern Europe, mainly Romania, charging them for inadequate training, housing them in unfit accommodation in Hastings and St Leonards, for which they were being charged excessive rent, and syphoning off their wages.

According to police, a number of care homes in the area paid thousands of pounds in fees for staff supplied by one or more agencies, but this money did not reach the employees, who were receiving below the minimum wage.

Five people were arrested on 18th May following raids as part of a county-wide crackdown on modern slavery, Operation Discovery. Police discovered a number of people living at three different local addresses, eight of whom are being treated as victims of modern slavery.They were being assessed at an emergency reception centre last week to establish their welfare, employment and housing needs.Two women aged 32 and 28, and a man aged 37 were arrested at an address in St Leonards while a 24-year old woman and a 26-year old man were arrested at a house in Hastings.

Police have not revealed the names of the care homes which employed the agency staff, and have stressed that the homes were all lawfully run and properly registered. They say furthermore that the staff supplied to the homes were not involved in the direct medical care of patients. However, it is unclear how the workers came to be employed by the homes when they had insufficient training.

A number of bona fide care agencies in the area have been informed of the police investigation in an email from East Sussex County Council’s Adult Social Care and Health department. The email named four employment agencies – Best Care Recruitment Limited, which was first incorporated in August 2013 and went into liquidation in October 2016; BS Recruitment Limited; Extra Care South East Limited; and Dignity Recruitment Solution Limited, which was only incorporated in January of this year. Companies House records show the agencies were all registered to addresses in Hastings and St Leonards, and all named either Besart Mustapha or Stefan Svantu as a secretary or director.

The website of Best Care Recruitment is marked as “permanently closed”. However the contents are still available to read and make an interesting presentation. “We are a British organization, based in Hastings and partnered with a Dutch group with over 200 employees. Best Care Recruitment has over 20 years of experience in healthcare”. They say they supply not only nurses and carers but also chefs, kitchen assistants and cleaners. “We conduct Recruitment Fairs in Eastern and Western Europe for our clients. Locations include Romania and The Netherlands…..Our clients report that we do business in the most efficient and effective manner while keeping their business needs in the forefront”.

The website also contains this limitation: “Please NOTE: As healthcare recruitment agency we are not require (sic) to be registered with CQC (Care Quality Commission) as we supply staff to registered providers in healthcare sector.”

A registered manager of community home care provision at a lawfully operated Hastings-based care agency, who did not want to be identified, told HIP that she feels there should be better regulation of employment agencies supplying staff to non-domiciliary settings such as hospitals and residential care homes: “It’s a big problem    diabolical,  unbelievable. You just think, in this day and age, how did they do it?”

Currently agencies providing care workers to people in their own homes -the domiciliary sector –are subject to inspections and regulated by the CQC. However, private agencies supplying staff to residential care homes are not subject to checks and inspections from outside bodies.   

The manager added that lawfully-run employment agencies supplying care staff are expected to provide mandatory training, and further training in specialised areas if required. “If you were the manager of a care home and I sent you a new staff member, I would then send you their profile which proves who they are, the training they’ve had, and their DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate. That’s how it should be. That’s professional. We have recruitment procedures to go through, and checks that we do. However, it’s down to the company to provide their training, and it’s quite scary that this could happen. But on the other hand it might just highlight a problem that could be resolved.”

 

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