Minimum wage – counting the cost

Thumbnail charities spring 2015With the announcement in the autumn budget of a £3million increase in HMRC’s budget for enforcing the law on the minimum wage, and an adult social care provider being ‘named and shamed’ along with 36 other firms for having failed to pay the required wage, now is the time for charities, particularly within the care and hospice sector, to review their own pay structures and ensure that staff are receiving what they’re entitled to. The care organisation identified in January by HMRC, Ultimate Care UK Limited, had underpaid seven of its employees amounts totalling £613.79. A further 70 organisations were named and shamed in late February, with one organisation owing £37,500 to 184 workers. A church was also named.

How do you avoid HMRC knocking on your door?

The health and social care sector is faced with increasing demand from an ageing population with an alarming pressure being placed upon hospices and care homes in particular. A high proportion of staff are required to be on call or available for set periods and may need to travel significant distances to provide the necessary care. Whilst there are a number of rules on what time can be taken into account when calculating whether an employee has received the hourly minimum wage, the following points are important:

  • Travel time between work locations is counted for the purpose of assessing whether a worker’s pay reflects the time spent on the job. A care worker travelling between a number of service users should be paid for the time spent travelling – not just for the time they’re actually with the service user. Time spent travelling to and from work is not counted.
  • The time actually spent working must be paid – not just the time the employer allocated to the task. As many service users have multiple and more complex needs, care provision can overrun the time allocated. Charities should actively monitor how long staff are working and make sure that their pay reflects the time being spent.
  • Where staff are required to be on standby and at or near the workplace, they are entitled to be paid for this time. This is of particular importance with residential care, where overnight care needs to be available. Again, making sure the time on-call staff spend providing care is recorded will help ensure that minimum wage legislation is complied with.

Health and social care charities have difficult choices to make. With the BBC reporting that spending on care for those over 65 has fallen by 20 per cent in the last decade, a promise from Labour to increase the maximum fine for noncompliance to £50,000 if elected, and HMRC vowingto publicly name and shame employers found to be in breach, early efforts to comply may well save charities from significant adverse publicity, as well as from significant extra costs.

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