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Home Care Workers

Volume 795: debated on Monday 28 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what new steps they will take to ensure that home care workers are paid the national living wage for travelling between appointments.

My Lords, the law is clear: workers are entitled to the minimum wage for time spent travelling from one client to another. The Government are committed to enforcing minimum wage legislation. Workers who think they might be underpaid should first speak to their employer. Alternatively, they can call the ACAS helpline for advice and referral to HMRC for possible enforcement action.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am glad he recognises that there is a problem, and I hope he agrees with me that more needs to be done to address it. It is a disgrace that UNISON has estimated that over 50% of home care workers do not receive any payment for travelling between appointments. The National Audit Office has estimated that up to 220,000 such workers do not receive the national minimum wage. Clearly, something is going wrong and more needs to be done. The Government might be able to look at the way the Care Quality Commission regulates home care firms and to insist that it scrutinises all standard contracts to ensure that workers receive the payment they are due for travelling between appointments. Will the Minister agree to explore this option—I hope he will write to me with the results of his exploration—and if not, why not?

My Lords, I will look at the figures the noble Lord cited. I am not sure I fully accept them. The role of the Care Quality Commission is to make sure that health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality care. It is not within the remit of its inspectors to check the contractual arrangements of each home care worker. I will certainly ask officials to look at that and to ask colleagues in the Department of Health. I also make it clear that local authorities, when commissioning services and when guidance has been issued by the Government, should assure themselves and have evidence that their service providers deliver services through staff remunerated so as to retain an effective workforce. Remuneration should be at least sufficient to comply with the national minimum wage legislation via hourly pay or equivalent salary. That will include appropriate remuneration for any time spent travelling between appointments.

My Lords, the Minister says that the law is clear, but the problem lies with its enforcement, as the noble Lord, Lord Wills, has said. Too many home care workers get confusing pay packets which can obscure the fact that they are not being paid for travel time. Could it not be made a legal requirement that employers separate out travel time and make pay packets clearer on the different elements of pay?

The noble Baroness is right to draw attention to transparency in pay packets, and I can give an assurance that legislation will take effect in April of this year for the first time entitling all workers to receive a pay slip. Where a worker is paid with a reference to time worked, the pay slip will now also detail the number of hours worked.

My Lords, I have personal experience of this through someone we helped eventually to get citizenship here—it took 10 years and was supported by other Members of this House—and she now works as a carer. I asked her about this issue following the court ruling that they should be paid for travel between appointments, and she said that the issue had never been brought up. I wrote her a letter pointing out that this was position, and she handed it into the agency that she works for. The agency immediately tore it up and said, “You have no right to discuss our affairs with anyone else”. To this day, she has still not had a penny for travel, even though most of her work is one hour at this place and then half-an-hour’s walk to the next. She is playing a valuable role, but the ruling of the court is absolutely ignored.

My Lords, I did not want to comment on any individual case, but what my noble friend has said sounds completely and utterly wrong. As I have said, the law is clear. I recommend that my noble friend tells her friend to take advice from ACAS, which I hope would then recommend enforcement by HMRC.

My Lords, is it not the case that the minimum wage was introduced to give an hourly wage? If that person is travelling and not being paid, does that not undermine the principle of an hourly minimum wage?

My Lords, the point is that the travelling time between the two jobs should be taken into account: it should be part of what is called the pay reference period. One should look at the whole pay reference period and make sure that it is compliant with the minimum wage legislation. If there is any doubt, take advice from ACAS.

My Lords, it would be helpful if the Minister could comment on the challenges to local authorities of trying to place contracts for people who need at least three visits a day in rural communities, where the time spent between visits is significant and they are unable to fully factor in those costs. Is he aware that in some places they are choosing to use different carers for the same individual across the 24-hour period so that they avoid paying some of the travel costs?

My Lords, we are dealing with the pay of individuals and the travel costs between the two visits. I have tried to set out what the law is, and I think that it is perfectly clear. On funding for local authorities, it is for them to decide how to deal with it. The Government have given councils access to £3.6 billion extra funding for adult social care in 2018-19 and £3.9 billion in 2019-20.

My Lords, this is predominantly a female workforce, often employed under precarious employment conditions—on zero-hours contracts without any guarantee of the number of hours worked or available each week. The Resolution Foundation estimates that care workers are collectively cheated out of £130 million each year. Age UK says that we will need 650,000 extra care workers for the future. We know that we need 130,000 care workers just to meet today’s demand. Does the Minister agree that giving care workers a decent living wage for all the time spent on the job is not only fair but vital to recruiting new staff and addressing current and future chronic staff shortages? If he does, what is he going to do about it?

My Lords, we believe it is vital that they are paid properly and that is why we gave advice to local authorities on how they should perform their duties. I repeated that advice on what local authorities should do to the noble Lord, Lord Wills. We have also made funding available to local authorities, so it should be for them to ensure that they have the right people to do the job.