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Sleep-in carers' back pay 'could take services from disabled'

It was ruled carers staying the night in patients’ homes should be paid the national minimum wage for their time

Carers staying the night in patients’ homes should be paid the national minimum wage for their time, according to a ruling which Mencap says could see the vulnerable lose their care.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) decided that overnight carers are due back pay for the time they have put in sleeping overnight to remain on-call for their patients. The bill, due by September, could be up to £400 million.

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Originally, most overnight carers received a flat-rate allowance for ‘sleeping in’ and were paid wages only for any work they carried out. They were required to be able to wake up to deal with any incident. Minimum wage is currently £7.50 an hour for those over 25, due to go up to £9 by 2020.

Minimum wage legislation says that employers must consider shifts where employees are allowed to sleep while ‘at work and under certain work-related responsibilities’. Mencap has disputed HMRC’s ruling, saying it will impact the ‘most vulnerable in our society’.

The charity lost an appeal in April against a ruling that it was wrong to pay a support worker £29.05 for a nine-hour sleep-in shift.

Chair of the Royal Mencap Society Derek Lewis said: ‘Sleep-ins are widely used in the learning disability sector to provide care for some of our most vulnerable adults, in their own homes in the communities they live in.

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‘The carer is only there ‘just in case’ to provide safety and reassurance and is rarely disturbed. Recent research which looked at the last three years showed that 99.7% of carers slept peacefully.

‘We are urging the government to avert a crisis in the learning disability sector. High politics, Brexit or the Parliamentary recess must not be allowed to get in the way. The future of some of the most vulnerable in our society needs to be protected.’

Mencap currently employs 5,500 carers on an overnight basis and plans to appeal the decision again.

UNISON has disputed Mencap’s claim, saying carers are due their back pay and employers must pay up. ‘Charities and care companies have bid for contracts for years knowing they should be paying at least the national minimum wage for staff who do sleep-ins,’ said general secretary Dave Prentis.

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‘Employers can’t now plead poverty and ask for an exemption from the law based on their own poor planning. The staff have done the work – now they should be paid for it.

‘It’s the government’s failure to fund social care properly that is causing so many problems in the sector, not the staff who do such valuable work with vulnerable people.’