Social care providers will have up to a year to identify how much they owe staff who were historically paid below the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts, under a new voluntary government scheme announced yesterday.
Councils had warned that a requirement to settle claims for underpayment of hourly rates would push many providers out of business.
“This announcement does not end the uncertainty for providers and care workers”
The new Social Care Compliance Scheme, announced on Wednesday, gives providers a year to calculate how much they owe staff in arrears. They will then be given a three-month review period to settle cases.
The government earlier this year waived further penalties for the underpayment of sleep-in shifts before 26 July in response to concerns over the financial stability of the social care market. Enforcement action was also temporarily suspended between 26 July and 1 November.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will now write to employers with outstanding sleep-in shift complaints against them and encourage them to sign up to the scheme.
The new government statement said: “The government is exploring options to minimise any impact on the sector. The government has opened discussions with the European Commission to determine whether any support, if deemed necessary, would be subject to EU state aid rules.”
“The announcement raises lots of uncertainties and unanswered questions”
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said the new scheme would buy “much-needed time” to understand the impact of historic liabilities.
She said: “But this announcement does not end the uncertainty for providers, care workers, the people they care for and their families, and those who pay for their own care or employ a personal assistant through a personal budget.
“It was misleading government guidance in the past which caused the confusion over whether [national living wage] should apply for sleep-in shifts. Now the government has clarified the position, it needs to provide genuinely new funding to deal with back-payment,” she added.
Ms Seccombe also warned that the government cannot ignore the additional costs of sleep-in shifts “in the here and now and into the future” and called for extra funding in the budget, which is due to be revealed on 22 November.
Care providers given a year to identify sleep-in shift liabilities
The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), an umbrella group representing over 80 leading voluntary social care disability providers, claimed the government had “again failed to tackle the funding of sleep in care”.
Its chair Steve Scown said: “VODG has been engaging with the members about unclear regulations and guidance since 2012, and making representations to Government since 2014.
“Despite funding independent research, providing detailed analysis and information for the Department of Health as well as offering pragmatic solutions we find government has done well to talk to itself, but not the sector,” he said.
He added: “The announcement raises lots of uncertainties and unanswered questions, which we shall be taking to government. This situation risks yet more unintended consequences as the limbo for providers and personal budget holders continues.”
Meanwhile, Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “Government needs to accept the responsibility for meeting the substantial costs of back dating sleep in costs and take full account of the reality that the sector has been operating for years within very contradictory guidance.”
Unite national officer Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “This is a typical ham-fisted response from the government. Organisations which have been exploiting our members are effectively being let off the hook.
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“Even if a worker is made aware of what they should have been paid, they will have to wait up to 15 months to receive their unpaid wages,” he said. “The very high staff turnover in this sector will mean that many workers will be unaware of the ruling and will not receive unpaid wages.
“This was a golden opportunity for the government to begin to transform the social care sector to allow it to meet the challenges of an aging society. An opportunity the government has singly failed to grasp,” he added.