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Sleep-in shift pay debate set to reach Supreme Court

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A debate over how much carers staying at their place of work overnight should be paid is set to be taken to the UK’s highest court.

An official appeal lodged by a union this week means the ongoing debate over payments for so-called sleep-in-shifts seems set to continue, despite a legal ruling last month. 

“We believe the Court of Appeal got this decision completely wrong”

Adam Creme

Previously, Unison had successfully argued at an employment tribunal in 2017 that workers looking after vulnerable patients should be paid full minimum wage for sleep-in shifts instead of a flat rate. 

This caused widespread panic in the social care sector, as providers warned they were facing an estimated bill of up £400m in backpay to workers, which could have pushed some into bankruptcy.

But in July this year learning disabilities charity Mencap had the ruling overturned at the Court of Appeal. Now, Unison, which represents care workers, has asked the Supreme Court for the right to appeal this decision.

The union’s head of legal services, Adam Creme, said: “There will be a period of time when the Supreme Court considers the application, but it is reasonable to expect the court will agree to hear an appeal.

“Assuming this is agreed, Unison will be taking the appeal forward and fighting for our members,” he said. “We believe the Court of Appeal got this decision completely wrong and will do everything we can to reverse it.”

Social care providers are now waiting with bated breath to see the final result and the wider implications.

Derek Lewis, chair the Royal Mencap Society, said the charity was “disappointed” that Unison had sought an appeal. 

He added: “This will unnecessarily delay having a final conclusion to this very damaging period of uncertainty and the establishment of clear and appropriate ground rules for the future.”

Matthew Wort, partner at Anthony Collins Solicitors, which fought against Unison in the Court of Appeal case, said he also expected the union to be given leave to appeal.

He added: “Care providers throughout the UK will now face further uncertainty at a time when consistency and continuity of the law is greatly needed.

“We hope commissioners of sleep-in care will maintain payments to providers which enable them to continue their current pay practice for sleep-ins, pending further news from the Supreme Court,” he said.


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