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Section 31 notices: Beware the fast track

We look at the CQC's use of s.31 notices, an alternative to the Notice of Proposal procedure when varying or removing conditions of registration.

Where the CQC takes civil enforcement action, it will most commonly follow the Notice of Proposal procedure.

However, Section 31 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 provides the CQC with an alternative, speedier procedure to vary or remove a condition on a provider’s registration. This might impose a condition (such as prohibiting admissions) but equally could be a variation of the provider’s registration to remove the location and thus close the unit quickly.

In order to rely upon Section 31, the CQC must have reasonable cause to believe that unless it acts under that section, a person will or may be exposed to the risk of harm.

When adopting the Section 31 procedure the CQC is required to give notice to the service provider that it is adopting this decision and to notify it of the date from when the notice will take effect.

When the Section 31 procedure is adopted, the representation stage that follows a notice of proposal is omitted. Instead, the matter goes straight to the First Tier Tribunal.

The First Tier Tribunal adopts a fast track procedure for Section 31 cases. Where a provider appeals against a Section 31 decision, the CQC is required to respond with its response to the appeal within three days and the Tribunal will hear the appeal within 10 days. That is obviously important as urgent closure decisions need swift resolutions.

Where Section 31 is to be utilised it is essential that urgent legal advice is obtained as matters will move very quickly.

For support in defending CQC proceedings, contact our primary care solicitors.