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Care homes relieved as Supreme court rules against Mencap sleep-in case

The Mencap sleep-in case has come to a close, and the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal.

By dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court is signalling support for care providers, sparing care homes a backpay bill estimated at £400 million for all hours worked overnight in the past.

The ruling in the Royal Mencap Society (Respondent) v Tomlinson-Blake (Appellant) case states that sleep-in workers are only entitled to be paid the national minimum wage for the specific time they are called upon to provide assistance, rather than for the entire time they are on-call during their shift, even for the time that they are asleep.

The Court reached this decision on the basis that although the workers were available for work, workers are still expected to be able to sleep during this time, and were paid a flat rate to cover this. In the claimant’s case, free accommodation was also being provided.

Amelia Goodwin, associate at Charles Russell Speechlys law firm commented: “Case law in this area has historically been inconsistent, and so whilst the Court’s decision is specific to these cases today, it will be helpful for other employers going forward.

“The question of whether employers will have to pay sleep-in workers for their entire shifts, will come down to whether the main purpose of the arrangement is for them to actually work, or if it is to sleep but be available for work.” 

Matt McDonald, partner at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau, added: “Care providers will be mightily relieved that their longstanding approach of paying a fixed rate for ‘sleep-in’ shifts has been confirmed by the Supreme Court as legally sound.

“If the Supreme Court’s decision had gone the other way, the bills facing care providers for historic underpayments would have been substantial and, in some cases, devastating. Many simply couldn’t have afforded to pay and we would therefore seen a large number of providers teetering on the brink of financial ruin, putting further pressure on UK care standards.”

However, the ruling will be disappointing for any care worker who believes they should be paid minimum wage for the entirety of the time spent on ‘sleep-in’ shifts.

Workers’ union GMB said: “Not many people would be able to sleep knowing they could be called to action at any moment. This was a missed chance to address the low pay of carers.

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