More than 2,400 care workers across the UK have been paid less than the national minimum wage over the past two years and employers owe them a total of £340,000 in pay arrears, the government revealed today.
Almost half (48%) of the care providers investigated by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in that time had paid one or more of their workers below the minimum wage.
Investigators have identified pay arrears of £338,835 owed to 2,443 care workers. The highest amount of arrears owed to an individual so far is £11,223.
Around 80 employers remain under investigation and HMRC said a further £80,000 could be owed to 200 workers.
“Anyone entitled to the national minimum wage should receive it. Paying anything less than this is illegal and unacceptable,” said Jo Swinson, employment relations minister.
“Government will take tough action on employers who break the law, as we can see through HMRC’s investigation into the care sector. As well as financial penalties, employers who don’t play by the rules can be publically named and shamed and may even be prosecuted.”
HMRC has a total of £110,000 in penalties to those employers found to have broken minimum wage laws.
The main reasons offered by employers for not paying the minimum wage included: making illegal deductions, such as uniform costs; not paying for time spent training or travelling between care jobs; charges for living accommodation; and incorrect hourly pay rates.
In one case, a provider in the North East of England was found to owe £6,000 in arrears to 60 home care workers because it had failed to pay for their travel time between clients and charged them for replacing their uniforms. The United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) said the findings underlined the importance of finding “a resolution to the under-resourcing of state-funded social care services once and for all”.
UKHCA chair Mike Padgham said: “We believe that non-compliance with national minimum wage is a symptom of the wider picture of under-funded social care and not the deliberate action of individual employers.
“While it is essential that employers comply with the law, it is a disgrace that social care is so poorly funded that employers struggle to keep ahead of the minimum wage. This is a sad reflection of the low value society places on the social care workforce and the outcomes our vital workforce secure for older and disabled people.”
The association also warned against using the HMRC’s findings to generalise about the entire care sector, as investigators targeted those employers thought to be at particular risk of breaking minimum wage laws.
However, Unison’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “It is appalling that bosses are still getting around paying the minimum wage, which is already low enough. Staff paid below the legal rates and the people they care for are both going to suffer if these companies are not made to abide by the law.
Anyone who thinks they are not being paid the minimum wage can call the Pay and Work Rights Helpline on 0800 917 2368.