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.

Find out more

Read about our Care Together Program to start and grow more co-ops and mutuals in social care.

Browse our campaign Action to Empower: Social Care Mutuals and read our Action to Empower report.

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 Services

Kudos Services

A mutual solution to a complex problem
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

Nundah Community Enterprises Co-operative staff smiling over coffee machine
28 April 2023

Happy birthday Nundah Co-op

Happy birthday Nundah Co-op. We join with Richard and the team in celebrating the potential for further growth.
woman with Down's syndrome gardening
18 April 2023

BCCM welcomes Bill Shorten’s comments regarding the need for major systemic reforms to NDIS

BCCM CEO Melina Morrison welcomes the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Bill Shorten’s comments regarding the need for major systemic reforms to the NDIS to ensure its...
3 April 2023

The future of care is co-operative

Australia is not alone as a country in being found to be failing our most vulnerable citizens when it comes to care. Several landmark inquiries into our care system have shown Australia faces...
elderly woman and young man playing board game
23 January 2023

BCCM launches $7m social care program

The BCCM has started work on a new Commonwealth funded education, training and advisory program to start and grow more co-ops and mutuals in social care.
Australian cash
30 March 2022

A strong economy is every Australian’s business: BCCM responds to the Federal Budget

The BCCM welcomed measures in the Federal Budget aimed at balancing the economy towards the interests of all Australians to build back better and fairly.
Co-operatives and mutuals a key focus of Budget funding for aged care innovation
30 March 2022

Co-operatives and mutuals a key focus of Budget funding for aged care innovation

The Federal Government is turning to Australia’s co-operatives and mutuals sector to help improve the quality and diversity of services provided to older Australians, people living with disability...
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.