Travel time payout could open door to more NMW claims

HMRC has already identified almost £500,000 owed to care workers on the minimum wage

The care sector could be liable to pay thousands of pounds worth of national minimum wage (NMW) arrears for unpaid time spent travelling between care appointments after one worker received a payout from her employer.

Caroline Barlow recently accepted a £1,250 settlement from her employer, MiHomecare, for work undertaken between October 2014 and February 2015. On average she made eight visits to people’s homes per working day in her own vehicle.

The lawyers acting for Barlow argued that, without paying for her travel time, she was being paid less than the NMW and that this constituted an unlawful deduction of wages.

Jasmine Patel, the solicitor at Leigh Day who represented Barlow, said this case could pave the way for more care workers to take action.

“We have had a lot of enquiries since the case came out in the news from carers in the same or a similar situation, so I think there are potentially a lot of people out there who are owed money for this,” said Patel.

The NMW regulations state that working time includes travelling in connection with work. But, historically, there have been issues with non-payment for travel time in the care sector.

Research by the Resolution Foundation has estimated that the sector – which employs around 1.4 million people in the UK – could be underpaying staff by £130m a year or more, with around 160,000 people estimated to be losing an average of £815 each a year.

HMRC has already carried out 100 investigations into cases of underpayment as a result of complaints made by employees. Targeted action is also being taken against some of the biggest social care providers in the UK, with non-compliance so far found in about a third of cases.

HMRC has so far identified more than £436,000 arrears for nearly 3,000 care workers, said a spokesperson. “When this work is completed we will have checked the pay of around 20 per cent of the care sector workforce,” they added.

In the case against MiHomecare, Patel said the employer had been paying slightly above the NMW for the time the employee spent at care appointments, but that, when spread across the month across all hours – including travel time – the wage fell bellow the NMW.

“She was working in Devon and it has a lot of country roads and difficult terrain to drive over. They weren’t taking into account that it could take her quite a while to get to appointments,” said Patel.

Employers need to ensure they understand the legal rights of their employees, she said: “I advise them to look at the NMW regulations and, where it is very clear that employees are travelling for the purposes of work, they should be paying them because it is unlawful not to.”

Matt Egan, assistant national officer at UNISON, said he hoped the MiHomecare case would lead to further cases being taken. He said UNISON was campaigning for clearer wage slips for care workers – a debate that will be heard in the House of Commons next week – because they are often “impenetrable documents”.

“We are calling on the government to enact section 12 of the NMW, which is a provision that would ensure care workers are given a breakdown of their working time so that they could determine the amount of time they have spent in people’s houses and travelling between visits.

“They would be in a much stronger position to get a sense of whether they have been paid the NMW or not. A lot of care workers at the moment won’t have a clue going off the information [in their payslip].”

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