A group of home care providers have been ordered to pay more than £100,000 in backdated earnings to home care staff after a four-year court battle.
In a case brought by the trade union Unison in 2016, an employment tribunal found that three contractors commissioned by Haringey Council in North London breached wage rules by paying workers just half of what was the £7.20-an-hour national minimum wage at the time.
Nine home care workers will receive around £10,000 each, the equivalent of nine months’ work and annual leave, which their employers had failed to pay.
The care companies involved in the Haringey case are Kaamil Education Limited, Diligent Care Services Limited, and Premier Carewaiting Limited.
The providers had failed to pay their staff travel time, meaning that workers could earn under half the legal minimum hourly rate, despite working for up to 14 hours a day, according to Unison.
The judgment said that travelling and waiting time of up to 60 minutes between appointments should be treated as working time.
Unison said the ruling has implications for “thousands more care staff” across the UK and those denied their full wages could now being cases against their employers to reclaim what they are owed.
The fact that the compensation details involving the 10 workers are public – and not subject to a confidentiality clause – is also significant, according to the union. Other home care workers on similar pay rates will now feel empowered to challenge any employers who fail to pay them correctly.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “This ruling sends a message to other care bosses that it’s completely unacceptable to pay staff illegal poverty wages. The government too must get tougher with employers so there’s an end to these law-breaking practices.”
Colin Angel, Policy Director at United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), commented: “Although the judgement in this case is not binding on other cases before the tribunals, it could change the interpretation of the law. The judgement is therefore potentially significant for homecare providers, councils, the NHS and for people who purchase their own care privately, or use a direct payment.
“UKHCA has consistently highlighted the implications of the way that homecare services are purchased by councils and the NHS, usually at extremely low hourly rates, and often calculated solely according to the number of minutes of care delivered. This judgement adds weight to the need to correct the unacceptable purchasing methods used in state-funded homecare.”
Matthew Wort, partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors, said the case does not set any precedent and therefore won’t resolve questions as to what amounts to working time. However, he stressed that home care providers must continue to ensure they are accurately calculating employee pay, taking into account travelling between appointments and any time employees are waiting to work in line with minimum wage rules.
“If not, providers may be subject to legal action or HMRC enforcement and further back pay bills,” he said.
“The employer in this case inherited the approach to pay under TUPE and as a result the historic liabilities. For home care providers considering taking over new contracts, it is critical that the right due diligence is carried out to identify any historic back pay liabilities which may be due to employees from the previous contract holder to avoid a costly bill further down the line.”
Unison says a national care service would help prevent illegal pay practices by ensuring workers were paid a fair wage.
It has outlined this and other demands for urgent reform, such as an end to zero-hours contracts, in a motion to be debated today (September 15) at the 152nd annual Trades Union Congress, set to take place online.
Prentis added: “It’s time the skills and experience of care staff were respected instead of them being underpaid and undervalued. The pandemic has proven just how vital they are in looking after the most vulnerable in society and keeping the care system running.
“These are the very same care staff who were applauded during the lockdown. They shouldn’t have to work in a system that breeds such awful treatment.”
Haringey Council was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Home Care Insight.