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What Victorian social service providers need to know about the new Social Services Regulator

24 January 2024

The Victorian Social Services Regulator will be established in July 2024 to regulate organisations that provide certain kinds of social services in Victoria.

The basic framework for the scheme has been set up under the Social Services Regulation Act 2021 (Vic) (New Act), the Social Services Regulations 2023 (Vic) (Regulations), and the Social Services Regulation Transitional Regulations 2023 (Vic) (Transitional Regulations).

The Act and both set of Regulations together set out key features of the new regulatory scheme, which is due to become operational in July 2024.

What we know about the new Social Services Regulator

The Regulator will regulate certain ‘in scope’ social services

The social services which will be covered by the scheme are child protection services, community-based child and family services provided or funded by the Victorian government, disability services, family violence services, homelessness services, out of home care services, secure welfare services, sexual assault services, and supported residential services.

See Part 1 of the Regulations for definitions of each type of service.

Affected providers must register with the Regulator to provide social services

Under the Act, organisations must register with the Regulator before they can provide ‘in scope’ social services. It will be an offence for an unregistered provider to provide such a social service.

To register, providers must meet registration criteria and will need to:

  • apply in a form approved by the Regulator
  • pay a fee, and
  • provide information required by the Regulator.

However, aspects of the registration process remain unclear. For example, we don’t know exactly what information or evidence providers will need to provide in their application. And we don’t know how much registration will cost.

Some providers will not need to apply for registration – Table 2 in Part 2 of the Transitional Regulations allows for deemed registrations for certain providers:

  • out of home care services referred to in section 47(a) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic), out of home care services registered under section 46 of this Act, and community services established under section 44(a)(i) of this Act to provide an out of home care service will be an ‘out of home care service’ under the New Act
  • community-based child and family services referred to in section 47(b)of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic), and community-based child and family services registered under section 46 of this Act will be a ‘community-based child and family service’ under the New Act
  • a secure welfare service established under section 44(a)(ii) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic) will be a ‘a secure welfare service’ under the New Act
  • a disability service under the Disability Act 2006 (Vic) will be a ‘disability service’ under the New Act
  • a supported residential service within the meaning of section 5 of the Supported Residential Services (Community Visitors) Act 2010 (Vic) will be a ‘supported residential service’ under the New Act

The Transitional Regulations will end on 30 June 2026.

The Regulator will have the power to grant provisional registration if failing to provide registration would increase risk to the safety of the service user.

The Regulator will have the power to exempt certain providers from certain registration requirements. We await guidance on when this power will be exercised.

Providers will need to ensure their board and key personnel meet certain requirements

Providers and their ‘key personnel’ (people responsible for executive decisions of the provider) must meet certain criteria to receive registration.

Under the Regulations, providers must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Be a suitable person – the Regulator will determine whether someone is a 'suitable person' based on various factors, including relevant criminal history and civil litigation findings relating to fraud, misrepresentation or dishonesty. (In response to sector feedback, the government says that consideration of ‘relevant’ criminal history won’t necessarily exclude people with criminal history related to their lived experience).
  • Have suitable arrangements in place to provide services – governance and operational management structures must be appropriate to the size and scale of the provider and the scope and complexity of the services. (Regulator guidance on what governance structures are suitable for different size providers and scopes of service will be essential).
  • Have relevant qualifications, skills or experience – providers will need to think about how they demonstrate they have effective governance systems and a suitable mix of skills and experience on the board. Having good board recruitment and training processes will be important.
  • Have suitable premises

Not all providers need to register at the same time

Not all social service providers need to register before the new scheme begins. The Transitional Regulations provide registration grace periods. Depending on the type of social service they offer, providers may have up to 12 additional months to complete their registration.

For example, most disability services will have one additional month to register but disability services that are funded by the Victorian WorkCover Authority or the Transport Accident Commission will have an additional 12 months to register.

The registration grace periods are set out in Table 1 of Part 2 of the Transitional Regulations. Service providers should check whether they have a grace period and, if they do, the length of the period.

Providers will need to comply with service standards

Under the New Act, registered providers must comply with six social services standards.

The standards relate to safe service delivery, service user agency and dignity, safe service environment, feedback and complaints, accountable organizational governance, and safe workforce.

The Regulations expand on each standard by setting out the actions providers must take to comply, and the intended outcome of the actions.

For example, to meet the safe service delivery standard, providers must ‘prevent avoidable harm and ensure service user safety through implementing practices that identify and reduce risk of harm.’ The intended outcome of this is to ‘protect service users from avoidable harm during the delivery of social services.’

Providers will need to carefully consider how to document their compliance with the standards.

For example, providers:

  • may need to update their feedback and complaints policies
  • will need to ensure their staff are able to provide anonymous feedback, and
  • providers will need to consider how they can demonstrate they have accountable and transparent governance arrangements

Certain providers will need to comply with a new screening system for workers and carers

Under the screening system, the Regulator will maintain a database of excluded workers who have:

  • caused harm to services users, or
  • done something to a service user, or in the presence of a service user, which is prohibited under the Regulations, including sexual misconduct, physical violence, causing significant emotional or psychological harm, or neglect

The exclusion scheme will apply to foster care services, out of home care services and secure welfare services. This means providers of these services must check workers against the database before employing them. Except for volunteer foster carers, providers don’t need to check volunteers.

The scheme will be operational by July 2024

The new regulatory scheme will come into effect on 1 July 2024, and the Regulator is set to be appointed in January 2024. We look forward to the Regulator publishing guidance to resolve uncertainties around the new scheme.

What’s next?

With big changes on the horizon for the social services sector in July, it’s important to keep monitoring for further guidance to be prepared for these changes. Stay up to date by:

The content on this webpage was last updated in January 2024 and is not legal advice. See full disclaimer and copyright notice.