Help & Advice by Hollie Burnham
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The Supreme Court will today consider the pay arrangements for care workers who ‘sleep in’ as part of their work duties. Organisations providing care fear that if they lose, they could be liable for millions of pounds in back pay, which could affect thousands of workers. However, unions argue all care staff should receive the minimum wage for night shifts, even if they are asleep.

Today’s court hearing follows a 3 year battle, after a Mencap employee argued she should receive the minimum wage for every hour of her sleep-in shift. She provided 24-hour care to two men in their homes, and was paid a flat rate of £29.05 for a nine hour ‘sleep-in’ shift. The employee, Claire Tomlinson-Blake, had her own room whilst on shift and was able to sleep, but was required to keep a ‘listening ear out’, provide support and respond to emergencies if required. The Court of Appeal ruled that employees who care for a person overnight are only entitled to the national minimum wage while they are carrying out their duties, and not for the full duration of their sleep-in shift.

In August 2018 it then followed that trade union Unison applied to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, and the Supreme Court has now allowed that appeal to go ahead.

It is expected that the impact of the ruling could affect thousands of workers, with care charities estimating a sector-wide liability of £400m if all time spent during sleep-ins is found to be working time. 

A spokesperson for Mencap charity said that such a bill could make the care they provide unviable and the charity wants the government to step in.

“Social care is chronically underfunded and many providers are warning that this could tip them into insolvency.

If back pay is owed, we believe the government should pay it.”

The Supreme Court hearing is expected to last until tomorrow, with a ruling to follow within months.

Sources:, 11 February 2020, ‘Pay us fairly for our overnight shifts, care workers say’., 12 February 2020, ‘Supreme Court hears minimum wage ‘sleep-in’ cases’.