Non-payment of travel time for care workers ‘breaks minimum wage laws’

Government support for a change in the way home care workers are paid and supported is growing, with the care services minister backing a system of naming and shaming any providers that fail to pay staff for their travel time.

The fact that many home care workers take home less than the minimum wage because they are not paid for travel time between visits is “a criminal offence and not acceptable”, care services minister Norman Lamb has said.

Speaking at Skills for Care’s annual conference on Thursday, Lamb said he was looking into what could be done to make those care providers who do not pay for travel time “cough up the money they owe”, as well as the possibility of naming and shaming the worst offenders.

It has long been a concern that many home care workers are on zero-hours contracts (where the employer does not guarantee a fixed number of hours per week) and not paid for travel time between clients, so their take-home pay often falls below the national minimum wage. Unison estimates that up to 200,000 care workers could currently be affected.

However, support for change has been growing this month. On 6 March, at a Westminster Hall debate, Labour MP Andrew Smith said: “Action is desperately needed on the terms on conditions of care workers. They are doing a demanding job, often on the lowest wages and minimal security.”

Smith said Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had confirmed the non-payment of travel time breaks minimum wage laws, adding: “Given that people receiving home care increasingly have substantial health needs, the whole business of zero-hours contracts is a poor and inappropriate employment model.”

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes echoed Smith’s concerns: “In my experience, [care] workers are troubled by a combination of not having enough time to look after the person they are caring for and no adequate account being taken of travel time, which means that they are in effect paid below the minimum wage to do a job that they cannot carry out sufficiently and that often there is no continuity of care from a particular individual for a vulnerable, normally elderly person.”

During his speech last week, Lamb admitted the government had “neglected its responsibility for too long”.

“We need to commission care based on outcomes for individuals, rather than paying people on a race to the bottom for 15-minute intervals of care,” he said.

Responding to his comments, Matthew Egan, Unison’s assistant national officer for local government, police and justice, said: “We’d welcome any moves to finally address this long standing problem as we’ve been raising it for years.

“It’s not only the law that is routinely being broken, it’s emblematic of how undervalued home care workers are, despite the vital public service they provide.”

Neither the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills nor the HMRC responded when asked for further information about Lamb’s proposal to introduce a naming and shaming system for providers.

The provider’s view

Also speaking at the Skills for Care conference was Ann Whaley, managing director of Flexicare, a home care provider in west Yorkshire. She told delegates that she does not pay her care workers for their travel time, although she does pay them a petrol allowance. She said Flexicare – like many other providers – does not receive enough local authority funding to allow it pay for travel time, adding: “I hope [Norman Lamb] does look at this, because if we’re going to pay travel time we need people pay more for care.”

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