Overnight ‘sleep-in’ carers in Lancashire are likely to face a wage cut after Lancashire County Council responded to a court ruling which found that they are entitled to a flat fee rather than an hourly rate.
The shift workers provide support to more than a thousand disabled residents who require “occasional” assistance during the night.
Last year, a Court of Appeal judgement concluded that such staff are “available for work rather than actually working” – and so are not entitled to the national minimum wage for the full duration of their shift.
That decision overturned a previous ruling in 2016 which obliged providers across the country to pay overnight care workers by the hour – increasing the bill to Lancashire County Council by almost £7m.
Following the latest judgement, County Hall has consulted with the 61 care providers which supply the service across the region about returning to a flat fee.
In agreeing the new rate which the authority will pay to care companies, Conservative council leader Geoff Driver said that he wanted to make it “a firm condition” that a fixed proportion of it is passed on to their staff.
Cabinet members agreed that providers will be paid just over £61 per shift from October, on the basis that £45 of it goes to the care worker. A top-up payment will be made until March 2020, meaning the new rate can be phased in and staff will therefore receive £55 per shift until then.
But under the current arrangements, staff are paid an average of £67 per shift – and care providers have previously expressed concern that any reduction will make it more difficult to retain workers.
The county council is one of the first authorities in the North West to react to last year’s court ruling and deputy leader of the Labour opposition group, John Fillis, said it would be wise to await the outcome of a further appeal against the decision by trades unions next year.
“[The staff] can’t go anywhere else – they can’t go out for the evening or down to the shops. They have to be there at that place – and I think that should be understood,” he said.
But County Cllr Driver said the authority had to reflect the law “as it is”.
“They can’t go [anywhere else], because they’re asleep – that’s the point. If they are awakened, because the client needs some attention – and most of them don’t – then of course they’ll get paid [by the hour] if they’re having to work rather than sleep,” he said.
County Hall had initially proposed a lower flat fee last December, prompting a call from care providers for a formal consultation.
“What we’re proposing doesn’t change anything for the service user, they will still get the service,” cabinet member for adult services, Graham Gooch, said.
“We know there are difficulties [in the sector], which is why we’ve consulted with the providers – they’re the people who employ the carers and we’ve done what they told us would resolve their problems.”
Lancashire County Council spends £70m per year on supported living services for disabled people.