Social care

Social care mutuals deliver social care through co-operative or mutual structures. This means that members of the organisations, who can be the consumers, the carers, the community or any combination of these, are involved in decision-making and benefit from its activities, including through the reinvestment of trading surplus.

Co-operatives and mutuals operate in aged care and disability services, community health, First Nations services and social housing.

Co-operative and mutual structures can increase diversity and choice in health, community and social services with positive outcomes for accountability, innovation, quality and productivity.

Benefits of social care mutuals

Co-operatives and mutuals generate benefits through their autonomy and independence, decision-making by members, member economic participation, reinvestment of profits, and co-operation.

They can:

  • Increase organisational diversity in social service markets: Co-ops and mutuals can assist smaller service providers to come together in a mutual to collaborate and operate more efficiently in a market.
  • Harness the professionalism of carers and unleash their entrepreneurialism: Employee-owned organisations are an alternative to privatising or outsourcing services. Government can sponsor innovation like Kudos Services Australia’s first public service mutual.
  • Increase consumer choice and control by helping individuals and communities to formulate their own responses to problems in client directed care markets: Co-operatives and mutuals develop empowerment through community owned co-operatives.

There is evidence that when carers and consumers are empowered through democratic governance productivity and workplace satisfaction increases dramatically.

When is a social care mutual the right model?

Co-operatives and mutuals are enterprises that deliver consumer choice and control and efficient and innovative service delivery. Social care mutuals are well placed to support community resilience where services cannot be delivered due to market or other service provision failure.

Co-operatives and mutuals have advantages in delivering services in areas that are not well services because they are small scale, remote or complex. They have proven particularly useful when:

  • Services are too expensive for government or market forces to provide
  • There are low or variable profits
  • Specialised service is needed
  • User input is required in service design and delivery.
Types of social care mutuals

Social care mutuals can have different structures, depending on who their members are.

Consumer co-operatives

Consumer or community-owned co-operatives can be an ideal approach for disadvantaged groups where there is the energy, commitment and expertise in the community to tackle problems together.

Co-operatives can be a method of developing members’ capacity to participate in the broader community by providing enhanced networks, increased confidence and skills.

Consumer co-operatives have demonstrated success and have enormous further potential with some of Australia’s most disadvantaged groups including Indigenous groups, rural communities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with disabilities and older Australians in need of care.

Employee co-operatives

Worker-owned co-operatives provide employees with autonomy and the ability to make judgements as to how to provide the best service at the local level. They free staff to be entrepreneurial and to innovate.

Employee-governed businesses can be effective for those working with people with complex needs, where consistency of personnel is required, and where services are focused on empowerment-based approaches. Staff-based co-operatives can be particularly effective in areas where staff attraction and retention has proven problematic.

Enterprise co-operatives

Governments throughout Australia are seeking larger, more efficient service organisations with a single point of entry for a wide range of complex social problems. Many smaller, yet highly effective social support organisations may not survive competing against these larger organisations with their economies of scale. This can mean larger organisations replacing smaller local groups that have built relationships with their local community, have local knowledge and specialist experience.

Co-operatives of businesses and not-for-profit organisations, called enterprise co-operatives, can support smaller providers to share corporate functions including bulk purchasing, accounting, human resources, marketing, client software and OH&S services. Enterprise co-operatives assist specialist organisations to increase productivity and market power whilst retaining local input and local jobs.

Social Care Community of Practice

The Social Care Community of Practice (CoP) is a series of online meetings and events designed to develop a network of people and enterprises interested in business model innovation involving new models of ownership that empower consumers and workers in social care.

Find out more about the Social Care CoP including Terms of Reference, upcoming meeting dates, and how to join.

Australian case studies

Kudos client and staff member playing Connect 4 game

Kudos Services

Kudos is Australia’s first public service mutual to form from a government agency, operating in the NDIS.
Nundah Community Enterprises Co-operative staff smiling over coffee machine

Nundah Co-op

Creating sustainable employment and training opportunities for people with mental illness, psycho-social disability learning difficulties or intellectual disability.
SILC group photo

Supporting Independent Living Co-operative

Established in 2015, this co-operative assists the families of people with disabilities create positive home environments.
The Co-operative Life outing

The Co-operative Life

The Co-operative Life is a registered NDIS provider and the first employee-owned co-operative to operate in the NDIS and aged care in Australia.

UK case studies

BCCM visit to Aspire Mutual on UK CME Tour - group photo

Aspire Mutual

Aspire is a social enterprise dedicated to providing care and support for adults living with learning difficulties, disabilities and mental health.
Community Dental Services truck

Community Dental Services

Small community dental service that formed in 2011 under the UK Mutuals Program “Right to Request”.
Shot of a young nurse caring for an elderly woman in a retirement home, istock

CSH Surrey

CSH Surrey is an employee-owned, not-for-profit NHS community healthcare provider. Since 2006 the organisation has worked in partnership with the NHS and social care in homes, clinics, hospitals and...
Greenwich Leisure Limited diving pool

Greenwich Leisure Limited

Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) is an employee-owned Mutual Social Enterprise.
HTC Group Leeds bus outing credit Mindy Goose

HCT Group

HCT Group provides over 30 million passenger trips on its buses every year. HCT Group is a social enterprise at a national scale.
housing Photo by Super Straho on Unsplash

Rochdale Boroughwide Housing

The UK’s first tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society, with over 12,000 homes throughout 52 neighbourhoods.
fruit vegetables Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

The Co-operative Group

Large British consumer co-operative providing a diverse range of retail and wholesale services including food, legal services, insurance and funeral care.
John Lewis store - work serving customer

The John Lewis Partnership

The UK’s largest employee-owned business and parent company of John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners, which are owned in Trust by over 80,000 Partners.
Shot of a physiotherapist helping a senior man with weights

Your Healthcare

Your Healthcare is an employee-owned mutual and provider of community health, social care and infrastructure services in Kingston and beyond.

Social care news

elderly woman and young man playing board game
1 September 2021

ACSA and co-op peak sign MOU

The MOU will give aged care provider members greater opportunities to explore and consider different models of ownership and governance.
Close up of carer supporting patient by hand, aged care, istock
30 August 2021

ACSA and BCCM MOU expands opportunity for diverse models of aged care

ACSA and the BCCM have signed an MOU so ACSA member non-profit aged care providers can find out more about the attributes and benefits of co-operative and mutual enterprises models of care giving.
carer helping elderly client into house
11 May 2021

The key to aged care transformation is consumer choice

The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) welcomes the Government’s recognition of the aged care sector in this evening’s budget announcement.
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1 March 2021

Service diversity is key to aged care transformation

The BCCM welcomes the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s final report and its emphasis on placing those being cared for at the centre of the aged care model.
carer helping elderly client into house
12 February 2021

What aged care could look like

Member-owned organisations are a perfect match for those who need aged care services and those who provide it.
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3 February 2021

Are co-ops the way to fix aged care?

"Social care is at its best when the community it is designed to serve is at the heart of its governance."
carer helping elderly client into house
27 January 2021

Member-owned aged care puts the consumer at the centre

By empowering members, be they consumers, employees, communities or a hybrid of these, providers can be held accountable for outcomes
Kudos client and staff member playing Connect 4 game
22 October 2020

Co-operatives and mutuals as social enterprises

Co-operatives and mutuals are member-owned enterprises that exist to meet the social, economic and cultural needs and aspirations of their members and communities.
Public service mutuals offer hope of higher quality care and support
8 March 2019

Public service mutuals offer hope of higher quality care and support

Public service mutuals, owned by their customers, employees or a combination, are gaining popularity as a way to provide consumer-directed social services with limited public funding with more...