Board orders spending review at homecare firm


BOARD MEMBERS at one of the State’s largest providers of home help have ordered an investigation into allegations of financial irregularities at the company.

The investigation at Fingal Home Care is expected to examine the spending of significant sums of money on salaries, allowances and other payments at the not-for-profit company, which receives funding of €5 million a year from the Health Service Executive.

Some of the salary payments were above the industry norms and made without the knowledge of the board, The Irish Times understands.

In recent weeks, two board members, solicitor John Hennessy and human resources specialist Helena Broderick, have assumed control of the day-to-day running of the organisation, which employs 400 staff providing home help and homecare services in north Dublin.

The two directors have made up to five staff redundant and taken a number of actions to shore up the finances of the company. The terms of reference of the investigation are currently being drawn up and an outside person will be appointed to conduct it.

The finances of the company deteriorated rapidly in recent months after the HSE cut funding by more than 20 per cent and it lost out to private sector rivals in recent tenders. At one point, it was losing almost €8,000 a week.

Although the HSE holds monthly management meetings with the company, it appears to have been unaware of the problems until earlier this year. Lawyers for the HSE then wrote to the board of Fingal Home Care reminding them of their duties and instructing them to take remedial action.

While home helps earn on average €13-€15 an hour, at least one member of the managerial staff is understood to be on a six-figure annual salary. Staffing included a number of members of the same family.

The HSE said, in a statement issued in response to questions from The Irish Times, that Fingal Home Care had very clear responsibilities under the service level agreement governing its provision of services.

“The annual value of services provided is circa €5 million and Fingal are required to provide services in line with this level of funding and without exceeding it.” Fingal was responsible for maintaining details of all clients in receipt of services and for making monthly returns to the HSE.

The company was the subject of a random standard internal audit earlier this year, according to the HSE. This was now complete and the HSE was in discussions with Fingal about its findings.

“It is inappropriate to comment further whilst that process is ongoing,” it said. Fingal had been asked for and had provided evidence of Garda vetting for its carers, the HSE statement added.

Meanwhile, a Garda investigation is continuing into another homecare company, Wicklow Community Services, after staff made allegations about financial irregularities there.

While Wicklow Community Services and Fingal Home Care are unrelated companies, in recent years a number of directors and staff have served or worked in both companies.

The most recent set of accounts for Wicklow Community Services states that an investigation into the unauthorised withdrawal of funds was carried out during 2011, but the amount of money involved is not stated.

In relation to Wicklow Community Services, the HSE said it was working closely with the company to ensure that matters “pertaining to alleged misappropriation of funds”, which were brought to its attention late last year, were fully investigated. “The matters under investigation are currently the subject of Garda inquiries.”

The Wicklow company employs more than 100 people and receives annual funding of over €1.2 million from the HSE.