A tribunal has concluded that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) ‘failed to properly’ evaluate an application from a care home provider to vary the conditions of its registration.

Judge Ian Robertson concluded at a First-Tier Tribunal that the regulator had not exercised its discretion appropriately and ‘fallen into the very trap that their own guidance warns against’ when applying the Registering the Right Support (RRS) guidance to registration applications.

Centurion Health Care in Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire, which provides person-centred care for adults with complex learning disabilities and autism, wanted to add an additional location to its registration – a six-bedded unit, Penley View, adjacent to its existing six-bedded service at Penley Grange. It lodged its application in February 2017.

CQC refused the application on the basis that it would not be compliant with guidance regarding small homes, which should accommodate no more than six people, except in exceptional circumstances.

The regulator argued Centurion was seeking to double the size of its existing service rather than provide an independent second operation. Also, even if it was an independent service, its location and proximity to the existing service would make it a campus setting or congregate, where effectively the two homes would be run as one with little interaction with the community.

The site, which is about a mile away from the local village or town, is set in its own grounds with a long drive and two neighbours.

However, the tribunal was satisfied with the provider’s evidence that Penley Grange and Penley View would be two separate homes run independently of each other.

It underlined that choice was a fundamental principle of RRS guidance and pointed out that not all service users needed or wanted to live in a city, town or village.

In its decision, the tribunal said: ‘We do not accept that together they form a campus setting. We find that together they do not create a congregate setting and that there is a local need for the services offered. It follows therefore that we consider that this application does fall squarely within the guidance and that accordingly the application should have been granted.

‘They [the CQC] have failed to properly evaluate the application. They have failed to consider the needs of the particular service user group that Penley Vale View would cater for.’

It also added in its decision that the CQC had ‘fallen into the very trap that their own guidance warns against’ of not being overly prescriptive or creating a one size fits all approach.

Laura Paton, an associate at Ridouts Solicitors, which represented Centurion, said: ‘This is a welcome decision for the sector and underlines that CQC must adopt a rational approach to the application of the RRS guidance on a case by case basis.

‘Applications should be looked at holistically including consideration of the needs of the individuals to be catered for. By its very nature the guidance allows a measure of discretion when reaching registration decisions and, as a public body, CQC must exercise this discretion appropriately.’

The CQC has been contacted for comment.