3,400 care workers have received a total of £650,000 in back pay following a HM Revenue and Customs began an investigation into the sector’s national minimum wage situation.

At least 130 care providers have been investigated in the last 12 months and fines totalling £122,249 have been issued to companies that were paying staff below the minimum wage since April 2015.

Many of the cases involved care workers who were not paid for the time they took travelling between jobs. Others were underpaid for the hours they spent delivering live-in care. Paramedics and firefighters are not paid only for time spent treating patients or putting out fires and HMRC considers that home care workers should not be treated any differently. To exclude this time can result in the National Minimum Wage Act being breached.

17 care workers, employed on zero-hours contracts are currently involved in ongoing legal action against contractor Sevacare. They claim they are paid just £3.27 an hour, as they are effectively working 24 hours a day once waiting time is included. In one case, they live in the home of an elderly woman with severe dementia for seven days at a time.

The minimum wage currently stands at £7.20 per hour for over 25s, but estimates are that about 16,000 care jobs are paid below this level, leading to an average underpayment of £815 a year per worker. Employment Relations Minister, Jo Swinson, has stated that “anyone entitled to the national minimum wage should receive it. Paying anything less than this is illegal and unacceptable.” Therefore we can expect more regulatory interest and tribunal claims in this sector.

The news marks arguably the most significant ever intervention by HMRC into pay issues in an individual sector, which was carried out in response to a series of complaints from unions and individual care workers. HMRC has said that its next target could be employers that use freelance staff on a long-term basis.

This serves as a warning to all sectors who are not abiding to wage laws in relation to employees. An HMRC spokesman said, “all businesses, irrespective of their size or business sector, are responsible for paying the correct minimum wage to their staff. HMRC continues to crack down on employers that ignore the law.”

By Gina Mukova

Image used under CC courtesy of Brian Bullockhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/bcpltd/