A leading South and West Wales law firm has warned domiciliary care providers that they could face bills amounting to many thousands over non-payment of the national minimum wage.
Paul Shuttleworth, Director and Head of Employment at JCP Solicitors, has issued the stark warning after one South Wales care home firm just settled out of court to a former employee to the tune of £1,250. However, the care home company in question could yet face a bill for hundreds of thousands of pounds in the event of a group action lawsuit from other staff and former employees.
Mr Shuttleworth says this most recent case is likely to be one of many, and he himself is acting for a number of care providers who say their livelihood is under threat, because recent rulings pertaining to the minimum wage could see them face costly claims.
“The case which has been in the press this week, regarding MiHomecare, illustrates many of the issues being faced by care home owners in Wales and England at the moment.
“It is commonplace for care staff wages to cover the time they spend once they arrive at a clients home, so their travel expenses aren’t included in their wages – or they aren’t paid at the same minimum wage rate.
“It is also very common in the care industry for domiciliary carers to be paid a flat rate for overnight stays in a client’s home – and for periods when they are asleep.
“This raises a number of issues regarding whether a carer is in fact “working” whilst they are asleep and as such whether they should be being paid the national minimum wage for this sleeping time. Very recently I have advised a number domiciliary care businesses in Wales on these issues.
“Those businesses are employers with a large number of employees, ranging from 400 to 700, so the implications for them if they were facing multiple claims or joint claims for unpaid employment are very serious.
“Any potential claims would also have a grave effect upon their ability to tender for Local Authority work, which is often care providers’ bread and butter, because their costs will greatly increase.”
According to the most recent figures from the United Kingdom Care Home Association #(UKHCA) there are 449 registered premises in Wales where clients receive domiciliary care.
And during March 2014, 25,794 adults received state funded domiciliary care services in Wales. The UKHCA estimates that 42,300 adults receive state funded domiciliary care services in Wales annually.
Mr Shuttleworth says there are a number of strategies business can put in place to safeguard themselves against costly claims.
“I would urge anyone who owns a care home to seek professional legal advice on matters pertaining to the minimum wage.
“HM Revenue and Customs, which is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage, has already said they are investigating more than 100 of the biggest social care providers in relation to payment of the minimum wage.
“Cases like the MiHomecare one are, I would say, the tip of the iceberg and there are a number of other cases gong through the European Courts at the moment which will see the situation evolve and develop further.”