Advice: Does my employer have to pay me the Living Wage?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Citizens Advice Newtownabbey

Q: I am 32 years old and I am on the minimum wage of £6.70 an hour. I have heard it is going up to the Living Wage. Does my employer have to pay it and how much will I get?

A: The National Living Wage was introduced on April 1, 2016. This will increase your minimum wage if you’re 25 or older. The rate will be £7.20 an hour, and all your other rights will stay the same.

Your wage must increase from April 1, 2016 if:

• you’re 25 or over

• you’re eligible for the National Minimum Wage

• you currently get less than £7.20 an hour

If your pay doesn’t change, start by speaking to your employer.

Your employer can’t fire you or alter your work to get around the National Living Wage. For example, they can’t take work that you’ve been doing away from you and give it to someone under 25 to avoid having to increase your wage. If you think your employer has changed your job to get around the minimum wage, it’s worth getting advice.

Speak to your employer if you’re not being paid the minimum wage - If you’re not getting the minimum wage when you should be getting it, your employer owes you the difference between what you should have been paid and what they’ve actually been paying you.

Try having an informal chat with your employer. Ask them to explain how they’ve worked out your pay, and to tell you why they think you’re not entitled to be paid minimum wage - or why they think you’re already getting it.

If your employer agrees they’ve made a genuine mistake, ask them to pay you what you’re owed immediately.

Your employer might say they give you benefits that ‘top up’ your pay rate to the minimum wage, e.g they give you meals or you get to keep all your tips. You should ask for the wage instead - you’ve got the right to be paid minimum wage on top of any extra benefits like these.

Step 1: Call the LRA helpline - If you haven’t already, call the LRA helpline on 028 9032 1442. They’ll confirm whether you’re entitled to minimum wage and help you work out your options.

Step 2: Raise a grievance - Check if your employer has a formal grievance procedure you can use. Even if they haven’t, you can still raise a grievance - for example by writing a letter. Explain why you think you haven’t been paid enough and say you want them to pay the difference.

Step 3: Take your employer to a tribunal - Think carefully before you go ahead, as it could be expensive and stressful. You’ve got three months less a day to start a tribunal claim, starting from the date of the most recent underpayment.

Step 4: Take your employer to court - In some cases you might be able to take your employer to court. You should only consider this if you don’t have the option of going to a tribunal, e.g because you’re over the time limit. Get advice if this applies to you.

Report your employer to HM Revenue and Customs - Regardless of whether you raise a grievance with your employer, you can report them to HMRC. They’ll decide whether to investigate your employer. There’s no guarantee that they will, but they’re more likely to do so if several people who work for your employer make complaints.

It could take a long time, so it’s best not to rely on this as a way to get the money you’re owed - unless you can’t go to a tribunal.

Call the LRA helpline on 028 9032 1442 to report your employer. They’ll take details of your complaint and pass it on to HMRC.

You’re legally protected from unfair dismissal if you report your employer. In practice this may not stop your employer from treating you unfairly if they suspect you’ve reported them.

You can protect yourself by telling the LRA helpline you don’t want to be named when HMRC contacts your employer.

If HMRC finds your employer isn’t paying the minimum wage to people who are entitled to it, they’ll take steps to force them to do so.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice – go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland or call at: Citizens Advice Newtownabbey, Dunanney Centre, Rathmullan Drive, Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, BT37 9DQ. Telephone advice is available 9am – 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (Lunch 1:00 - 1:30pm), email advice is available at enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk