When I interviewed Hassle’s Alex Depledge on-stage at our London Disrupt conference, she had sympathy for my dislike of the ‘sharing economy’ moniker. However, she argued, if we put aside spurious claims that sharing economy startups are altruistic at their core, what many of these businesses do have in common is that they are disrupting the traditional agency model for the better. And in the case of the U.K.’s HomeTouch it’s hard to argue any different.
The one year old startup, which has just picked up additional undisclosed funding from Passion Capital, operates a home care marketplace to let families with elderly parents and others needing “care” to find a vetted carer local to them.
And by letting professional carers — or Personal Assistants (PAs), the term preferred by disabled people themselves — sell their services direct and in a way that cuts out the traditional middle person, or at least replaces it with HomeTouch’s online marketplace, multiple upsides ensue.
Firstly, and in a classic example of an online marketplace disrupting the traditional agency model, a lot more money trickles down to the people who are actually carrying out the work. They also get more control over where they work and who they work for, and how much they charge, which in turn results in arguably a much better service — not least because it goes someway to address two of the biggest failings of the care industry: low pay and low morale.
In turn, care seekers potentially get greater liquidity. As I can attest from my own experiences as a disabled person who has employed PAs for over 20 years, finding and retaining quality carers is the number one headache of those receiving care, and agencies are notoriously bad at this.
That’s perhaps counterintuitive to those who have never been on the receiving end of poor agency care as this is basically the sole reason care agencies exist and why they are able to justify taking an arguably exploitative rate of commission, sometimes as high as 50-70 per cent. In contrast, HomeTouch takes a 20 per cent cut for matching carers with care receivers.
In fact, in a call with (ex-GP) Dr Jamie Wilson, founder and CEO of HomeTouch, he likened the service to online dating, in the sense that price sensitivity often plays second fiddle to actually matching the right people, taking into account a carer’s experience and particular skill set and the required cultural fit to successfully place a carer in somebody’s home.
What’s interesting, compared to a domestic cleaning marketplace like Hassle, for example, is that clients typically interview several carers matched via HomeTouch before agreeing to employ them — depending on how urgent the care need is.
That also means that a marketplace like HomeTouch fits quite nicely in the space left vacant between a care agency and recruiting carers direct via a classified ads site like Gumtree — I have experience of both. In doing so, the downsides of both approaches are mitigated whilst retaining most of the advantages.
Privately advertising and recruiting for carers is extremely time-consuming, whilst using an agency typically means relinquishing control, and rolling the carer dice. Rather you than me.
Meanwhile, the business opportunity here is huge. According to UKHCA and the U.K.’s Quality Care Commission, there are more than 7,000 care agencies in the U.K. (7,000 too many?) — and approximately 500,000 carers, although this is likely a low estimate since it probably doesn’t include in-home residential carers or those who are paid in cash.
I’m also told that the demand side of the market is approximately 800,000 homes or clients who currently employ care and this market is growing at a rate of 10 per cent year on year.