Minimum-wage social care workers at high risk of being underpaid – NAO

Social care workers are at high risk of not being paid the minimum wage despite overall improvements in government enforcement, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

The NAO’s report says that although data on minimum wage breaches is marred by a lack of consistent measuring standards, the percentage of care workers who are not being paid the wage could be as low as 0.8% or as high as 12.9%.

The rate of underpayment for every worker is estimated as £815, considerably more than arrears in other sectors.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “With the implementation of the National Living Wage, it is even more important that the government ensures its compliance programme reflects the changing risks within the labour market, and maintains its progress in ensuring all employers pay the minimum wage.

“The government also needs to reduce the time it takes to investigate complaints and resolve cases.”

The report found that the government has made some efforts to improve minimum wage compliance. For example, the funding available has increased from £9.2m for 2014-15 to £20m for 2016-17, and the average time taken for HMRC to close a case has decreased from 170 days to 82.

However, HMRC still took over 240 days to close 17% of its cases in 2015-16.

Social care was treated as a high priority sector for investigating wage breaches in 2015-16 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, leading to 172 investigations being closed in April to December 2015, of which 91 were closed within 120 working days.

HMRC is also currently investigating a further 141 employers, comprising 107 complaints and 34 proactive risk-based investigations.

The LGA has previously warned that increased costs from the National Living Wage could push social care into crisis.

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