The government has responded to warnings by care providers that HMRC enforcement action risked bankrupting the sector, by waiving fines related to backdated pay owed to workers for sleep-in shifts.
In what it described as “exceptional measures to minimise disruption”, the government also said it would temporarily suspend, until 2 October, all enforcement activity relating to pay for sleep-in shifts.
The decision comes in the wake of a tribunal ruling that residential care workers who routinely ‘sleep-in’ as part of on-call shifts should be paid the national minimum wage for those hours rather than a lower flat rate, as most traditionally had been.
Following the case, HMRC had begun demanding back payments of up to six years, which providers had warned could “collapse” a sector already facing an intense funding crisis.
Care sector bodies had been calling for an immediate freeze on HMRC action while clarity was sought on the issue, with guidelines on sleep-in pay issued by the government as recently as 2015 appearing to contradict the recent judgment.
A statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) said: “Social care providers play a vital role in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society and workers in that sector should be paid fairly for the important work they do.”
It added that the government “will continue to look at this issue extremely carefully alongside industry representatives to see whether any further support is needed and ensure that action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate, while seeing how it might be possible to minimise any impact on social care provision.”
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, a group representing care providers, said: “I am pleased that HMRC will not be pursuing care providers for sleep-in payments. However, this is only part of the problem and providers may be required to pay years of back pay to staff who have done sleep-ins.
“The government must come up with a long term solution for this issue of sleep-in payments, including clarification about how this issue will be treated in the future, and if they will not allow sleep-in’s, then they must make sure that the additional costs of waking staff are included in commissioning fees.”
But Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, which represents a number of care staff who work overnight shifts, slammed the decision as ministers “caving in” to employers and delivering a “huge blow” for low-paid workers.
“Each year, care workers are collectively cheated of £130m in wages, but this outrageous state of affairs has failed to prompt any meaningful reaction from the government,” Prentis said.
He added that there was “nothing” in the government’s plans setting out how to ensure care staff would receive back-pay.
“It sends out a message to care workers that they are of little value,” Prentis said.
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