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Casual workers at risk of ‘wage theft’ from unscrupulous employers

13 March 2016

Confusing working hours, poor administration and legal loopholes mean that workers are being underpaid and in extreme cases not paid at all, says Citizens Advice.

The number of issues dealt with by Citizens Advice about unauthorised deductions - non-payment of wages owed - has nearly doubled in a single year from 4900 in 2014 to 9000 in 2015.

Citizens Advice helped with 380,000 employment issues in 2015, with one in six relating to pay and entitlements.

The overall number of problems with pay and entitlements rose by 4% to 67,000 in comparison to the previous year.  

The charity’s latest Advice Trends publication has shown that at the same time, problems with unauthorised deductions increased by 84%, prompting concerns from Citizens Advice that there is an emerging trend of ‘wage theft’ where people are not getting paid in full for the work they do.

The charity recognises that in some cases it can be an honest mistake due to fluctuating working patterns, as errors recording the hours people worked lead to miscalculations in their pay and entitlements.

However, Citizens Advice finds that in some cases employers are deliberately underpaying people including:

  • taking money from their wages without good reason

  • misrepresenting people’s working hours

  • paying below national minimum wage

  • not paying wages for a long period of time or at all.

A cleaner sought help from Citizens Advice after going for months without proper pay.  Her employer settled her back payments but then cut her wages to below minimum wage without her knowledge.

Workers also reported bosses withholding rotas so people couldn’t check how long they had worked.  For instance, a care worker worked between 12 and 50 hours a week on a zero hours contract and was regularly underpaid. She was prevented from accessing previous rotas so she couldn’t prove how many hours she had worked.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Bad business practices mean workers aren’t getting the pay they’ve worked hard for.

“Constantly changing shifts and confusion over working hours can lead to genuine mistakes where people aren’t always paid what they’re owed. At the same time, unscrupulous employers are misrepresenting people’s work and deliberately underpaying them, making it hard for people to prove that they’ve been shortchanged.

“As more people are in casual and insecure work, it’s particularly concerning that there’s an emerging trend of pay errors and wage theft which can further undermine people’s financial security.

“It is really important that employers take care to make sure people are paid the hours they have worked.  Anyone struggling with a pay issue can get help from Citizens Advice.”

Workers who wish to resolve problems with pay may need to use dispute resolution services through ACAS or take their employer to an employment tribunal. However,since the introduction of fees in 2013, the number of people making an application has fallen by two thirds.

In November 2015 Citizens Advice gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee showing that four in five people who came to Citizens Advice would be deterred from making a claim to an employment tribunal because of high fees.

- Ends -

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice surveyed 361 Citizens Advice clients between October and December 2014 about whether they would be less likely to make an application to an employment tribunal because of the fees. Where a claim reaches hearing stage, fees are £1,200 for unfair dismissal and discrimination claims or £390 for all other claims. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/policy/policy-research-topics/work-policy-research-surveys-and-consultation-responses/work-policy-research/fairer-fees 
  2. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  3. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  4. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  5. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  6. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.