Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington has called on the government to fund six years’ back pay for overnight carers.
Revenue Customs has ruled care workers sleeping overnight to provide safety and reassurance should get the national minimum wage for all hours.
But Harington fears people such as his cousin Laurent, who has Down’s syndrome and autism, could suffer as a result.
The government said it would “ensure that action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate”.
But Harington said: “If the charities can’t pay this bill, then people are going to be left without the care they need.”
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While on night shifts, most employees providing care in people’s own homes or accommodation run by Mencap and other organisations are allowed to sleep, providing they can be woken to deal with any incidents.
According to minimum wage legislation, employers must take into account shifts where staff are allowed to sleep as long as they are “at work and under certain work-related responsibilities”.
Until recently, many overnight care workers were paid a flat rate allowance for the “sleep-in”, about £30.
But in April, following an employment tribunal appeal ruling, all workers were granted a minimum of £7.50 per hour for the whole shift.
Last week, the government announced a temporary suspension to enforcement action by HMRC until October, but many charities say they will not be able to cover the bill for back pay.
Harington, who plays Jon Snow in the television series, said: “If this legislation goes ahead and the back pay bill lands squarely at the charities’ and providers’ feet and they have to pay it, many people like Laurent are not going to have that 24-7 care.
“This bill cannot be paid by the charities. For me, it’s as simple as this can’t be allowed to stand.
“Laurent loves swimming, he loves Zumba, he loves dancing, and he loves going to the disco. He needs to live the life he loves living.
“When my aunt can’t care for him the way she has, we will need to find that for him, and my worry is that the way things are going, it’s going to be harder and harder for Laurent to find what he needs.
“Basically, I think the government needs to pay it. The bill needs to be footed, and it needs to be footed by the government.”
Important for society
Harington said that he feared for charities and individuals paying for care for family members.
He said: “This issue is of the greatest importance, I think, not just for me but for our society that we live in.
“Our duty for society is to care for the most vulnerable in our society. If this bill is having to be paid by the charities that cannot pay it, the most vulnerable in our society are going to be left without care.
“That’s not a society I believe in or want to live in, so it’s of the greatest importance, and it’s urgent.”
Mencap chairman, Derek Lewis said: “Employers are keen to fulfil their responsibilities to employees. But if the government changes the rules on how sleep-in payments should be paid, it must expect to have to pay for the changes.
“We reiterate our call to government to accept its responsibility and make an urgent commitment to fund the back pay bill, for the sake of those vulnerable people who depend on this care and for the dedicated people who provide that care. Time is running out.”
Unison, which represents a number of overnight carers, said: “It’s the government’s failure to fund social care properly that risks devastating the care sector, not the workers asking for a legal wage.
“Charities and care companies have known for a long time they must pay sleep-in staff at least the minimum wage. But it’s only now HM Revenue Customs is in pursuit that many are pleading poverty and asking for an exemption from the law.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “The government will continue to look at this issue extremely carefully alongside industry representatives to see whether any further support is needed and ensure that action taken to protect workers is fair and proportionate, while seeing how it might be possible to minimise any impact on social care provision.”