Government 'must help charities with sleep-in shift back-pay bill'

Former health minister Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat, has tabled an early day motion calling on ministers to cover a bill estimated by Mencap at up to £400m

A former health minister has called on the government to provide funding to cover an estimated bill of up to £400m faced by learning disability charities that failed to pay carers the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts.

Norman Lamb, who was a health minister in the coalition government and is the health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, has submitted an early day motion calling for "urgent action" from the government to help charities pay sleep-in shift workers the national minimum wage.

According to the learning disability charity Mencap, sleep-ins are used widely in the learning disability sector to provide care for vulnerable adults, and until recently workers were paid a flat-rate, "on-call" allowance rather than the national minimum wage.

The flat rate is typically £35 to £45, with workers receiving either the national minimum wage or the national living wage for the hours they spend providing care, according to the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, which represents charities that provide services to disabled people.

But in the wake of two employment tribunal decisions from last year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has changed its guidance to ensure the national minimum wage applies to sleep-in carers.

As a result, HM Revenue & Customs has begun asking disability charities to give six years of back pay to affected staff. Mencap said this could cost the sector as much as £400m.

The EDM from Lamb, who is MP for North Norfolk, says he "supports the payment of the minimum wage for overnight shifts and the payment of back pay due, but recognises serious concerns about the ability of providers such as Mencap to pay up to six years' back pay to staff".

The EDM adds that the house "shares the concerns of charities and other providers" about the risk of insolvency from paying a large amount in back pay and additional wages, and is "alarmed" at the knock-on effect on vulnerable people receiving sleep-in care.

It also says that providers have received "conflicting advice" from HMRC and the BEIS "in respect of their liability to pay the minimum wage for sleep-in shifts" and calls on the government "to take urgent action by providing the necessary funding to cover back payments and higher wage costs for sleep-in shifts".

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