HMRC has ruled that care workers who have to sleep overnight in order to provide safety and reassurance to vulnerable individuals should be paid the national minimum wage for all hours during the shift. This ruling divides opinion however with some claiming it as a major victory for affected care workers whilst others see it as an extra financial burden on an already crippled care system.
Carers working night shifts looking after people in their own homes are permitted to sleep provided they can be easily woken as and when required. Historically many such carers were paid a lower flat rate for time spent sleeping and additional wages for work carried out when awake. However minimum wage legislation states that employers must take into account shifts where staff members are allowed to sleep as long as they are "at work and under certain work-related responsibilities". The government’s position is that these individuals should be paid fairly and entitled to the national minimum wage of £7.50 (for over 25’s).
A government spokesperson has said on the issue "We recognise the vital role social care providers play in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and workers in that sector should be paid fairly for the important job they do. As the Prime Minister has said, the government is considering this issue extremely carefully and we will continue to work with the industry to ensure any action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate."
However the other side of the argument is put forward by the disability charity Mencap which employ around 5,500 carers on an overnight basis. Mencap warns vulnerable people may ultimately end up losing overnight supervision. Mencap estimates that the total bill for calculated back pay which is due to be paid by September as a consequence of this new ruling could be as much as £400m. As a consequence of this it is claimed that smaller care organisations may now be close to financial ruin. Chairman of Mencap, Derek Lewis has said “The carer is only there 'just in case' to provide safety and reassurance and is rarely disturbed. There will be a major impact on the 5,500 people we support and some may even end up losing that support all together. For many smaller care providers across the country the financial impact will be devastating."
Unison, which represents a number of overnight carers, said: "It's the government's failure to fund social care properly that risks devastating the care sector, not the workers asking for a legal wage.
"Charities and care companies have known for a long time they must pay sleep-in staff at least the minimum wage. But it's only now HM Revenue & Customs is in pursuit that many are pleading poverty and asking for an exemption from the law."
Source: BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40648952) 19th July 2017 - Pay row threatens overnight care for vulnerable