A major provider of social care for old and disabled people is facing the prospect of a group action for non-payment of the minimum wage. The practice of not paying care workers for the time that they spend traveling to and from appointments – and which means that, in some instances, their pay is below minimum wage – could soon change following a landmark employment tribunal case.
The carer who bought the case, Caroline Barlow, worked for MiHomecare, a nationwide homecare services provider with 35 branches which cares for people who need help and support due to old age, illness, disability or infirmity. Barlow attended an average of eight appointments per day but was not paid for the time spent traveling – which often amounted to several hours a day.
‘My job involved going to see people in their own homes and performing a range of tasks to ensure that these very vulnerable people had someone to care for them on a regular basis. By the nature of the job I had to travel to people’s homes to carry out my work, it is only after doing the role that you realise just how much of your day is essential travelling.’
Last month HMRC announced that it had launched investigations into some of the largest providers of social care for elderly and disabled adults after becoming concerned that they may be failing to pay workers properly. It has promised those found to be in breach of minimum wage laws will be ‘named and shamed’ and fined.
It is reckoned that 883,000 people receive domiciliary care in the UK with over 500,000 people employed in the sector.
MiHomecare told the BBC that following a review in June 2014 they had revised all pay rates and amended care rosters to ensure that they complied with relevant legislation. According to the investigative organisation, Corporate Watch a leaked internal MiHomecare document calculated it could owe workers from just one of its branches as much as £80,000 for not paying travel time.
In February the company agreed to settle Barlow’s claim for the travel time she should have been paid for, agreeing to pay her £1250. According to her lawyers Leigh Day & Co, the number of similar claims could run into thousands costing care providers millions of pounds in unpaid wages for staff. There are potentially thousands more Home Care Workers working for MiHomecare, and other care providers, who are also being paid less than the national minimum wage.
Alex Cisneros is a barrister practising out of No5 Chambers. He specialises in public law