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Should Carers be Entitled to the NMW whilst asleep?

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Panoramic Care Blog, Insights


Care workers who sleep at service users’ homes are not entitled to the national minimum wage for the hours that they are sleeping, the Supreme Court has ruled. 

Some say that whilst asleep, carers do not have to attend to work duties and therefore are not entitled to the national minimum wage. However, others claim that he or she will be carrying out “time work” and so should be entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage for the whole of this time, even if sleeping. 

This topic has been up for debate for years. Working within senior level recruitment consultancy, operating largely across Healthcare and Nursing, we thought it would be valuable to explore the thoughts of our network. As such, we recently conducted a poll asking: Should carers on ‘sleep-in shifts’ be entitled to the National Minimum Wage for periods when they are asleep?  

Instantly, we saw a landslide in the results with 81% of voters maintaining that sleep-in shifts warrant the National Minimum Wage. A qualitative response we received repeatedly was that a night shift is indeed still a shift. With carers’ and nurses’ pay being a key discussion point during the COVID Pandemic, it is argued that care workers do not receive the respect and pay that they deserve, and this is a contributing factor.  While you are at work, you are available should you be needed, whether it's a 'wake' shift or 'sleep-in'. You cannot work another job during that time and you may have to pay for childcare, for example.  

We did not receive a single written comment outright stating that carers should not be paid National Minimum Wage whilst on a ‘sleep-in’ shift. However, 16% percent of participants voted against the tide, and 4% of voters were unsure. Staff are away from their homes and their families in an unfamiliar room and have to be available at all times to assist as needed.  

Several voters feel that all or most care homes would pay the National Minimum Wage for ‘sleep-in’ shifts if they could, as the government is ‘committed to improving the adult social care system’ (, but local authorities would have ‘devastating unfunded back-pay…estimated at £400m’ ( This may risk services becoming unviable.  

The Supreme Court sustained that "sleep-in workers...are not doing time work for the purposes of the national minimum wage if they are not awake" ( Nevertheless, one argument that has been voiced time and time again, is that a ‘sleep-in’ shift isn’t the same as sleeping as you are aware of your duty of care. 

The financial consequences of the ruling could potentially jeopardise the care of vulnerable people, and this should be considered. However, this case is about the principle of treating staff fairly. Will the issue of overnight pay soon be readdressed?  

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