HMRC ‘is taking a punitive approach’ to care worker back-pay issue

The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group says there is a lack of clarity with the scheme to make care charities give sleep-in staff back pay within 15 months

A charity representing more than 80 voluntary sector and not-for-profit disability and care organisations has accused the government and the taxman of taking a punitive approach to charities over the back-pay issue for sleep-in care workers.

The Voluntary Organisations Disability Group accused HM Revenue & Customs of “bullish tactics” and of sending “ultimatum letters” that give organisations 30 days to sign up to a voluntary scheme drawn up by the government to resolve the issue.

The VODG said there was a lack of clarity around the scheme, making it difficult for its members to decide whether they should sign up.

Sleep-in care workers, who are widely used in the sector to care for vulnerable adults, were typically paid a flat rate of between £35 and £45, with workers receiving either the national minimum wage or the national living wage for any hours actually spent providing care rather than being asleep, according to VODG.

But in the wake of two employment tribunal decisions from last year, the government changed its guidance to ensure that the national minimum wage applied to sleep-in carers for the entirety of the time they are present.

Mencap estimated in the summer that the back-pay bill could cost the sector £400m and bankrupt many social care charities and providers.

Earlier this month, the government and HMRC published details of a scheme that gave providers a year to identify what they owe and a further three months to pay off the arrears.

But charities criticised the announcement, with Mencap saying that organisations signing up to the scheme could be “writing their own suicide notes”.

They want the government to foot the bill because they believe the issue has arisen as a result of the government providing incorrect guidance on the matter.

In the VODG statement yesterday, Steve Scown, chair of the organisation, said: “There are too many unresolved questions for providers to make an informed decision as to whether to join the government’s compliance scheme.

“In the absence of answers, and funding to cover the back-pay bill, HMRC’s approach and the timeframe it is imposing is unhelpful to a sector that is at full stretch financially.”

The chief executive of one disability charity, who did not want to be named, said: “This appears to be a concerted and planned campaign by government to undermine the sector when a constructive, not punitive, approach is needed.

“At a time when we need more funding for social care, the sector is instead being hammered by the HMRC, intent on taking away resources from the sector.”

An HMRC spokesman said the government had consistently made it clear that all employers were expected to pay workers according to the law. 

“The social care compliance scheme is designed to maximise the prospects of workers being paid arrears owed to them, while at the same time protecting existing jobs and the stability of the sector,” he said. 

“HMRC is engaging with the sector to help providers consider whether they are eligible for the scheme. As part of this we have contacted all social care providers who were already subject to a National Minimum Wage investigation at the scheme’s launch and where we have received a worker complaint.”

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Action for Children unfairly and constructively dismissed social worker, tribunal finds

Janette Coyle claimed she had been bullied and undermined by her manager at the charity’s Plymouth city centre office

An employment tribunal has ruled that Action for Children unfairly and constructively dismissed an employee who felt she had been bullied by her line manager.

Janette Coyle resigned from her role as a social work lead practitioner at the charity’s Plymouth city centre office in August 2015, after she had been made to work alone in small office with little natural light, which she said provoked anxiety because of an incident in 1997 when she had opened a door and the body of a person who had hanged themselves the day before swung into her.

She also claimed she felt bullied and undermined by her manager, Sally Kendrick, who compared her unfavourably to other staff and complained that Coyle’s team was not working quickly enough, according to the tribunal’s judgment, published last week.

The tribunal hearing took place in January, when the charity argued that Coyle had left because she was struggling with the demands of her role.

Coyle had worked for the charity since July 2014 when the charity took on the contract to run children’s centres in Plymouth, providing safeguarding and support for vulnerable children.

She had worked for the previous contract holder, Keyham Community Partnership, since September 2008 and had transferred to Action for Children when it took over.

The tribunal found the transfer of the contract had created a “significant backlog” of work for Coyle and her team and the charity had failed to resolve the problem a year later.

“The tribunal is satisfied that there was no evidence that the claimant was responsible for such issues,” the judgment said.

Anne Goraj, the tribunal judge, said in her judgment she did not believe that those managing Coyle had been made fully aware of her fear of being in the small space or of the traumatic incident with the body.

The judge said she did not believe Kendrick had deliberately intended to undermine Coyle on a number of occasions, but had been “clumsy and tactless”, which had been upsetting for Coyle, the judgment said.

The tribunal also found Coyle would “reasonably have felt distressed and undermined” by some of Kendrick’s comments.

It concluded that the charity’s management had failed to carry out a proper investigation into Coyle’s allegation of bullying and found she felt she had been shouted at by another manager, Susan Turle, in an investigatory meeting into her performance.

Before she left the organisation Coyle was being investigated over her handling of a difficult and potentially violent family, even though her actions in the situation had won her praise from Plymouth City Council’s welfare and safeguarding officer, according to the judgment.

It said the charity had been right to investigate the issue, but not to open a second investigation into the incident.

When Coyle was signed off sick with work-related stress in June 2015, the charity claimed to have found several problems in her caseload which needed to be investigated and suspended her, although it did not thoroughly explain to the tribunal what the accusations against her were.

The tribunal ruled that Coyle had been unfairly constructively dismissed and awarded her compensation, which will be decided at a later date.

It ordered an additional 20 per cent to be added to the compensation figure to reflect the fact that Coyle had not been subject to a formal disciplinary hearing when she left, had not been given full details of the accusations against her and the issue had been dealt with in an inappropriate way by the charity.

An Action for Children spokesman said: “We do not provide detailed comment on individual cases but can confirm that there was a legal dispute regarding termination of employment that was heard by an employment tribunal. These proceedings were progressed and concluded in July 2017.”

Third Sector was unable to contact Coyle for comment.

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ICO warning after charity worker is convicted of data-protection offence

Robert Morrisey, 63, of Rochdale was given a two-year conditional discharge after sending sensitive information about clients to himself

The Information Commissioner’s Office has warned charities to ensure their staff abide by data-protection legislation after a charity worker was prosecuted for sending private data to his personal email address.

Robert Morrisey, 63, from Rochdale, who worked for the Rochdale Connections Trust, which supports young people and their families, was convicted at Preston Crown Court yesterday of unlawfully obtaining personal data in breach of section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998.

He had sent 11 emails from his work account to his personal email address on 22 February 2017 that contained spreadsheets including the sensitive personal data of 183 people, three of whom were children.

The ICO, which brought the prosecution, said the data included full names, dates of birth, telephone numbers and medical information.

A further investigation found that Morrisey had sent similar data to his personal account on 14 June 2016, the ICO said.

Morrisey was given a conditional discharge for two years, ordered to pay £1,845.25 in prosecution costs and made to pay a victim surcharge of £15.

Section 55 of the Data Protection Act 1998 prohibits knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data or the information contained in personal data.

Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO, said: “People have a right to expect that when they share their personal information with an organisation it will be handled properly and legally. That is especially so when it is sensitive personal data.

“People whose jobs give them access to this type of information need to realise that just because they can access it, that doesn’t mean they should. They need to have a valid legal reason for doing so. Copying sensitive personal information without the necessary permission isn’t a valid reason.”

Rochdale Connections Trust declined to comment on the case.

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