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Colin Angel: Use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector

Wednesday 30 July 2014

In our blog series on atypical contracts in the changing world of work, Colin Angel, Policy and Campaigns Director for the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA), talks about the use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector.

Colin Angel, Policy and Campaigns Director, United Kingdom Homecare Association 

UKHCA is the professional representative association for domiciliary care providers in the United Kingdom. Colin leads on social policy analysis and professional representation of the Homecare sector; as well as external affairs. He was previously a Registered Nurse specialising in Operating Theatre (Operating Room) nursing and a social care fellow at NICE.

Colin Angel

Homecare services deliver social care to people in their own homes using a mobile workforce required to respond to peaks and troughs of demand, both during the day, and over weeks and months, as individual service users' conditions improve or deteriorate.

There are over 410,000 people working for around 7,500 registered agencies in England, with zero hours contracts used for an estimated 50 to 70% of frontline workers. Over 7,500 locations in England deliver homecare services, most of which are in the private and voluntary sector.

There has been a longstanding use of zero hours contracts in our sector, which appears to have arisen largely as a result of uncertainty of purchase by local authorities. Currently councils buy around 70% of all homecare, meaning that they effectively have a near monopsony of purchasing power in their local care market. The purchasing decisions of councils, and the available funding from central government, largely determine the operation of the sector.

The chronic underfunding of state purchased social care has been the subject of considerable publicity. Local authorities have used their market dominance to beat-down the prices paid for care. This year the BBC revealed that it could find only 4 of 101 councils paying their subcontractors at or above UKHCA's recommended minimum price for homecare of £15.19 per hour.

Councils almost exclusively pay solely for the time a careworker spends in the service user's home. As up to 70% of the fee for an hour of care is the worker's wages, travel time and travel costs, there is little scope for the majority of employers to offer guaranteed hours of work for periods of down-time during the day (typically, between breakfast and lunch and early afternoons), or where a worker's regular pattern of work has changed because their service user has been admitted to hospital, experienced a change in condition, or passed away.

Remarkably, very few care providers seemed to recognise the portrayal of the use of zero hours contracts reported in the media during the last 12 months. It is extremely rare that homecare workers experience the "stop-start" pattern of working described in the press, or that they are required to have an exclusive working arrangement with a single employer.

However, providers were very clear in telling UKHCA that the use of zero hours contracts continues to be necessary because of the extremely low rates that local authorities pay for care, and the insistence of councils paying for care by the hour, or part thereof.

The majority of providers told us that their services would be unsustainable on the current levels of funding, without the use of zero hours contracts. Interestingly, even where employers offer their workers both guaranteed and zero hours contracts there is still a significant demand for the flexible working arrangements offered through zero hours contracts. In the largest sample we have, 24% of careworkers opted for guaranteed hours when given the choice.

UKHCA is not convinced that the economic downturn has increased use of zero hours contracts in our sector. However their use will certainly continue unless the social care system is adequately funded.

As a professional association UKHCA favours better guidance on the use of zero-hours contract being made widely available to employers. We would also like to ensure that careworkers are helped to have a genuine understanding of the nature of their employment relationship and the obligations for themselves and their employers. Clearly guaranteed hours should be available for workers who want them, where this is adequately funded through appropriate fees.

However, if we genuinely wish to see a reduction in the use of zero hours contracts in the homecare sector then local councils face a significant increase in their spending, which is unlikely to be forthcoming. Until then UKHCA continues to support the ethical use of zero hours contracts, given the necessity for their use and the demand for them from our workforce.

Read more blogs from the zero hours contracts series

Gill Dix: Zero Hours Contracts - Acas hosts the debate

Ian Brinkley: Developing new policy toward future of zero hours contracts

Sally Hunt: Casualisation of contracts - an equality issue


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  • Posted by Alan Turner  |  5 April 2017, 5:54PM
    Care worker non payment of travel time
  • Posted by Alan  |  5 April 2017, 5:53PM
    Care worker non payment of travel time
  • Posted by Julie  |  19 February 2017, 9:20PM

    I can live with a no hours contract as I'm fortunate in that I have other support. I do get the statutory minimum holidays, but the agency I work for refuses to recognise that I have the right to turn work down. I haven't done that as I know the company has no one to cover my shifts if I do, but I expect that I will need time off one day and am not looking forward to the outraged attitude I'll get from my manager when I tell her I must turn work down. She says we can ask and she will consider requests. We, the rest of the workers and I, often get snippy little emails from her about taking time off.

    This is the second agency I have worked for and that agency did not understand  this (or pretended not to) either. 










  • Posted by Julie  |  19 February 2017, 9:19PM

    I can live with a no hours contract as I'm fortunate in that I have other support. I do get the statutory minimum holidays, but the agency I work for refuses to recognise that I have the right to turn work down. I haven't done that as I know the company has no one to cover my shifts if I do, but I expect that I will need time off one day and am not looking forward to the outraged attitude I'll get from my manager when I tell her I must turn work down. She says we can ask and she will consider requests. We, the rest of the workers and I, often get snippy little emails from her about taking time off.

    This is the second agency I have worked for and that agency did not understand  this (or pretended not to) either. 










  • Posted by Dee  |  2 November 2016, 5:11AM
    The positive arguments regarding zero hours contract are the ones that serve the government, first and foremost. A government which has somehow passed a legislation legalising the exploitation of workers and the human rights under the auspices of zero hours contracts. Secondly, the employers who happily flagrantly abuse government legislations, employment laws, health and social care guidelines and regulations, HASAW 1974 act and many more literally under the full knowledge of the government. Noise updated the exclusivity clause that appears in zero hours contract although the update is quite ineffective and literally a play of words in order to bamboozle the worker in believing that, in fact, yes, the is showing that it cares. It doesn't. Zero Hours Contract suits temporary and short term earning where workers' rights are not required due to the short cessation of worker's needs. Zero Hours Contract ought to be an option quite like the 48 hour option to work in excess of ( which, again is another example of a play of words as certain jobs are outside of the 48 option, yet the option is still offered and does not make logical sense if a worker who has opted out downs tools at the 48th hour and leaves the inevitable disasters in their trail should there be no handover worker ready and waiting to take over at the 48th hour. Zero Hour Contract ought to be banned and never replaced disguised as another contract title containing a play of words.
  • Posted by Dee  |  2 November 2016, 4:20AM
    Zero Hours Contract serves positive and negative outcomes. Negative use by employers towards employees often results in unnecessary hardships, some of which can prove to result in devastingly adverse effects to workers' lives. I am a former employee who was forced to resign due to my former employer's, Helping Hands Home Care untrue allegations made against me due to right to Whistleblow. The company is using the zero hours contract to serve as its justification to cease my earning capacity whilst the employer exercises informal and unfair practises it feels it is fully obliged to do owed to the contract. The company has made me suffer a detriment as a result of my duty of care to report them and currently has the audacity to deny and make false allegations now that I have been challenging them of the legislations they have abused. I am now waiting to see if the government will act on my official complaints and filings or somehow allow the company to continue until, as we have seen time and time again, an death occurs due to gross neglect. When this happens, we see officials giving excuses as to why previous reported issues were not dealt with. And, to follow is the usual case where no one is held to account for the ling trail of cacophony of errors leading to the death which cannot inexorably hidden away from the public. I've lost 7 days pay due to the zero hours contract and I am completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Alerting my employers of,very serious concerns, some of which were either ignored and made worse due to gross negligence which I had no option to whistleblow is not a crime but my public duty. What government allows such loopholes?
  • Posted by KateB  |  27 January 2016, 10:30AM

    I do agree that zero hours contracts are simply an exploitative policy. Private social care suppliers make huge money and still exploiting and abusing their employees who are low paid. They have no guarantee of work. You can check how much private care firms make here:  

  • Posted by june hodgkins  |  6 March 2015, 10:44PM

    my husband works for an nursing agency.he works on a zero hour contract. i would like to know does the agency have to pay my husband a pension scheme.for when he husband pays into a holiday fund. he pays so much and the agency pays £1.00 .any.sick pay he gets is from the social security.he gets regular work,and they have had him working a 22 and 24hr shift before now. he does,nt get a petrol allowance. they send him all over the place.they cancel shifts and give shifts at short notice.they ask him in for updates which can start at 9am-5pm. they don,t pay him for those. is that legal. surely it,s classed as working.i,m concerned he,s being put upon.


    many thanks june

  • Posted by MS W  |  6 March 2015, 5:49PM

    Mr Pierce. I am thrilled that someone can challenge the companies via the PB (Personal Budgets) i work on a Direct Payment and i have to help my employer with all the information. 

    Having a 1st class BA (Hons) in Health and /social Care the payroll provider has now said for the DP that im on too much.  8.00 p hour forn a few hours a week. It seems that the Trusts are identifying your need (it does sound like lots of support but you will need it.

    Check your insurance liabilty though as there is a couple of insurances. There are two main ones ( i wont mention) but the one you may have is the colour green and the one you may wish to look into is red/white...the green is often sugested but not recommended because payroll provideers say they dont recomend. The red/white intials MB  has a wider selection! but its your choice, just a thought for you. 

    Also be mindful PB and DP are not regualted,,, stay in contact as im hoping to set up some networking groups. 

    Thanks for the inspiration.    

  • Posted by Astrid Elisabeth Guaaker  |  29 November 2014, 7:11PM

    Hi everybody,

    I am planning to do my PhD on the use of zero hour contracts in carework. I want to do develop a questionnaire used to assess how zero hour contracts affect the quality of care and would like to interview both careworkers and patients if possible. Can anyone who might be interested in participating respond to this comment.

    It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  • Posted by Roger Trueman  |  14 November 2014, 11:09AM

    My Grandaugther works for one such company on a zero rate contract, they seem to make the rules up as they go along,al they want to do is make the most amount of money and pay out the least amount possible.

    She never knows from week to the next what she is working, they have telephoned her at 11.30pm at night asking her to go across the city to see a patient,also short notice to see someone eles patient.

    The pay is not exactly brilliant.working hours long and unstable.

    It's about time that these cheap jack companies were sorted out.

    It appears that anyone can start up one of these companies.

    The company my Grandaughter works for has changed hands twive in one year.

    She has now found a job in the same line working for a council,fixed hours,pension,holidays,sick pay etc.things she never got working for the other company.

    Who by the way are messing her about with what they owe her and her paperwok.always excuess.


  • Posted by Annoona Thumpton  |  4 August 2014, 6:00PM

    @ Vanessa Redhead

    Private social care providers continually blaming councils is a nonsense when you look at the huge profits they make.

    Check the link Vanessa  Huge profits. Clearly the're making lots of money at the expense of their own workers with zero hours contracts and many breaking national min wage too.


  • Posted by Annoona Thumpton  |  3 August 2014, 11:27PM

    Zero hours is nothing but exploitative nonsense and can never be justified or excused.

    Research on zero hours contracts by Fawsett Society shows how low paid women are being exploited in the workplace!

    Dr Eva Neitzert – Deputy CEO at the Fawcett Society – said:

    “Zero-hours contracts provide the ultimate flexibility for employers, but our research shows that this comes at a cost to some of the most vulnerable workers – those on low pay.

    With zero-hours contracts there is no guarantee of work at all, so this can be a route into financial insecurity and hardship'.

    Check out the massive profits made by private care companies yet many still abuse their care workers by exploitive zero hours and by breaking NMW law.



  • Posted by Ruth Millar  |  3 August 2014, 8:47PM

    Zero hours contracts need to be banned. Care workers need to be payed a decent liveable wage. They should have regular hours contracts be it part time or fulltime.  Staff need to be able to organise their private lives and can only do this by having regular hours.  This also gives them incentive to enjoy their work and learn. Unfortunately if you pay low wages then you get a disenchanted work force who do not care about the people they are looking after.

  • Posted by Gordon Pierce  |  3 August 2014, 8:27PM
    Karen I had to retrain every Carer I employed as standard of skills far below the standard required by me, as for holiday pay,NI, sick pay all covered by contract of employment. As for overheads that was covered by fact my wage rates were 33% higher than NMW thus more than enough to cover pluss my funding worked out £300 per wk cheaperthan hiing Agency on £ 14per hour. As already stated only greed of owners robbing Carers of decent pay
  • Posted by Debra Claridge  |  3 August 2014, 7:21PM

    Karen you state 'You are forgetting all the employer taxes insurances and holiday pays and so forth. And you are also forgetting that any care company has other staff costs to cover like management and logisitics and tons of ongoing training costs'.

    Yes indeed it is the law that these companies pay tax and holiday pay and as you put it 'so forth'. It is also the law that they pay NMW yet many of them break that law by stealing from their own workers by not paying it!  NMW is NOT a choice for rogue employers.

    UKHCA and its spin doctor Colin Angel's refusal to do anything about its member Allied Healthcare one of the largest care companies in the UK who admitted on Channel 4 News to not paying travel time says everything you need to know about those two organisations!

    UKHCA spin that they care about non-payment of the NMW but clearly do NOT give two hoots about the care workers who carry out the care. Care workers struggling to make ends meet who are being robbed by care companies making huge profits at their expense! The fact that UKHCA do absolutely NOTHING about their associate Allied HealthCare speaks volumes!

    'The working conditions of Care Workers are among the worst of any in England. Their wages tend to be either. National Minimum Wage or no more than 15% above that minimum. Frequently, even the National Minimum Wage is ignored, with employers unlawfully refusing to pay Domiciliary Workers for the time to travel in between their clients. Many Care Workers don’t even know what hours they’ll be working from week to week – exploitative ‘Zero Hours Contracts’ play a huge role in the sector and destabilise workers’ lives. The low status of Care Work and poor treatment of workers has led to a vicious downward spiral into one of the most difficult sectors for workers, with widespread exploitation’.

    The Kingsmill Report - Taking Care.
    Baroness Denise Kingsmill CBE

    NMW is the law it is not a choice for rogue employers or so you Karen - might think, and yet that is exactly what is happening in the UK today. Deceitful, ruthless unethical service providers simply flout NMW law when they deny their workers their minimum legal entitlement of the NMW. The care and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable people in our society is at risk when the very people who deliver the care are often abused by immoral private service providers that literally steal from their own workers’ pockets.

    Not being paid for all time worked including travel between service users is often an all too common and illegal practice. Do we seriously think that we can continue to accept this deceit and allow it to be the norm. No longer must this outrageous law breaking on such a massive scale by unscrupulous service providers be tolerated. The actions of these care companies and abuse of their own workers, which ultimately has a knock on affect and is detrimental to the service users by way of high staff turnover, can no longer be allowed to continue. How can we as a society entrust the delivery of care into the hands of such untrustworthy and conniving employers?

    Link to profits Karen for your interest.


  • Posted by Karen  |  3 August 2014, 1:16AM

    You are forgetting all the employer taxes insurances and holiday pays and so forth. And you are also forgetting that any care company has other staff costs to cover like management and logisitics and tons of ongoing training costs

  • Posted by Karen  |  3 August 2014, 12:54AM

    Colin I truly believe the answer lies with the business sector. 

    Local authorities are already cash strapped and with a growing population of elderly and "unwell" then  ( especially Alzeimers/Dementia) then a business owner could evaluate the profit made from an employee ( which might be quite a lot) and dedicate x% to help that employee who might also be a "carer" at home for loved ones, to continue to grow career whilst care is paid for by the business.  I think thats a win win situation all round.


  • Posted by Debra Claridge  |  2 August 2014, 5:27PM

    They cut down employee hours down but still employ more care staff? You wouldn’t think that makes sense would you?
    It’s about control of work staff who are treated like work slaves.
    Office staff and management get paid proper wages NOT zero hours.
    Having spoken just recently to someone who worked in private care in Morecambe they said,

    'We had zero hours before it became a Government Buzzword. Bare Hall Quality Care run by Geoff Wilson were doing it long before the recession. It didn’t have a fancy name for it, unless its business malpractice.
    Nor was Wilson the only one doing it.If the girls complain they get sacked’.

  • Posted by Gordon Pierce  |  2 August 2014, 11:34AM
    Find it a Ridiculous statement that Agencies can't make a Profit by charging less than £15 per hour. Having cared for my Partner on a PB of £62,000 per annum & gotten 105 hrs of care per wk from this, paying Carers £8.50 per Mon/Fri, £10 per hour Sat/Sun. Relate this to Agency charging £14 per hour £1470 per wk, paying NMW plus NI, plus holiday & travel Profit would be in excess of £400 per wk. £20,000 per annum from 1 client, think your defence is your Agencies profits are being hit,so their lifestyles & that's to be paid by for Carers,, truly a poor showing on behalf of an industry that as the gall to mention word Care whiler not Caring at all for its workforce
  • Posted by Debra Claridge  |  1 August 2014, 5:02PM

    I find the total hypocrisyof Colin Angel unforgivable. His association UKHCA does absolutely nothing about their assoicate Allied Health Care one of the largest care companies in the UK who were exposed on 14/11/2013 Channel 4 News of failing to pay their care workers their travel time and all time worked. Many care workers on Zero hours suffer the  double whammy of being denied NMW too! 

    Zero hours and not even being paid NMW by having wages stolen by totally immoral, unscrupulous rogue private care companies that Norman Lamb called 'criminal' is rife in the private care industy. Care workers who then do not earn enough to even pay National Insurance lose out by not building up their pensions too! But this is yet another another gain for the rogue employer who then also does not pay NI.

    '220,000 people working in the care system earn less than the minimum wage' Margaret Hodge - Public accounts committee July 2014 report.

    These rogue and immoral care companies had been breaking NMW wage by not paying their care workers for their travel time long before recession and cutbacks and continue to do so.  Zero hours are totally exploitive, and as producer of Channel 4 News told me he had never, EVER spoken to a single care worker who was happy with zero hours.

    'Hundreds of thousands of workers - the Unite union estimates up to 5.5 million - are on the contracts, which allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work.

    They mean employees only work as and when they are needed by employers, often at short notice, and are only paid for the hours they work. 

    Critics say this leaves workers with little stability or security, and open to exploitation',

    Please do not insult our intelligence when it has been shown that zero hours contacts are exploitative and are not welcomed by those who unfortunately have no choice but to sign their lives away in this economic climate. Your blog is an undeniable insult to many hardworking and exploited care workers, who aren't even being paid NMW whilst many of their employers make huge profits.

    It is my understanding that Mike Padgham director of Spirit Care Limited which recently went bust and former chairman of UKHCA until a couple of weeks ago had the gall to lobby his MP only the other day for a VAT holiday for private care companies. This is simply outrageous and reflects what is clearly apparent that the private care industry is REALLY all about: PROFIT!


  • Posted by Vanessa Readhead  |  31 July 2014, 8:46AM

    Still feels like independant providers are blamed for the state of the market, including the discharge of 15 minute visits. If councils paid the goal rate and had the confidence to move to paying for outcomes it would mean good providers could really make a difference.

    Please note this is a personal opinion.

  • Posted by Jess Litten, Acas  |  30 July 2014, 4:59PM

    Thank you for submitting this interesting blog, Colin. It was great to hear you speak on this challenging topic on 22nd July. I am sure that readers will want to contribute to this discussion to continue the debate.

    Also to note, we have also published blogs by Gill Dix, Head of Strategy at Acas, Ian Brinkley, Chief Economist at the Work Foundation and Sally Hunt, the General Secretary at the University and Colleges Union. Also, Acas published initial research on evidence gathered about zero hours contracts on our discussion paper page in May.

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