Mencap claims that organisations like theirs who provide overnight support and assistance to clients with complex learning disabilities will face a bill of £400m if a six-year backpay is imposed. HMRC has stated that support workers who sleep over at their workplace are entitled to the minimum wage for all hours worked.
Many charities, including Mencap, have been paying their workers a flat rate below minimum wage for overnight shifts; the money topped-up if the worker is woken to carry out support during the shift.
Some 5,500 people work in this sector and it has been calculated that there has been an underpay of £400m over the past six-years. Mencap states that: "For many smaller care providers across the country the financial impact will be devastating."
Yes, the government’s failure to adequately fund social care and support has impacted greatly on the sector, and doubtlessly has some bearing on this situation. However, as a Unison official points out:
"Charities and care companies have known for a long time they must pay sleep-in staff at least the minimum wage. But it's only now HM Revenue & Customs is in pursuit that many are pleading poverty and asking for an exemption from the law.”
I have little sympathy with Mencap and the other providers of these services. This is a long-standing issue. The trade unions have been fighting for this group of workers for many years. Indeed, Unite carried out some work amongst its housing workers who carry out sleepovers as part of their work duties.
Mencap and other major charities have been quite silent over the past seven-years. I don't recall Mencap joining in with disabled people in our fight against cuts to social care and support. While we have been out on the streets and actively campaigning through the courts against the closure of the ILF and the right to decent care packages these large charities have kept their heads below the parapet.