An employment tribunal claim is today being lodged on behalf of a foster carer, arguing that she is a worker and entitled to rights such as holiday pay.
Trade union the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which is filing the claim on behalf of foster carer Sarah Anderson against Hampshire County Council, believes that, if successful, the case could open the doors for thousands of similar claims by foster carers.
Although foster carers in the UK are paid by local councils, agencies or charities to look after children, they are not currently classified as either workers or employees.
“Many foster care workers are highly qualified, put in very long hours, are rigidly supervised and have foster care as their main source of income,” said Dr Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the IWGB. “This case is not about whether or not foster care is a form of work – that ship has sailed – this case is whether those workers should be entitled to the employment rights the rest of us take for granted.”
Anderson, who also chairs the IWGB’s foster care workers’ branch, added: “As foster care workers we are exploited, have no rights whatsoever and are treated as a disposable workforce, when society needs carers more than ever. We can't advocate or look after our children properly if our rights aren't recognised and protected.”
The IWGB has previously brought and won a case on behalf of two foster carers under Scottish law. In August, Glasgow Employment Tribunal ruled that James and Christine Johnstone were employees, with the judgment focusing particularly on the level of control the council had over the pair along with the mutuality of obligation between the carers and the council.
A previous case heard by the Court of Appeal decided that foster carers could not be classified as workers, as the relationship between carers and their organisation is not based on a legal contract. However, the IWGB is arguing that the facts of Anderson’s case are different and that, under European law, such a contract is not required to establish an employment relationship.
“The news that a foster carer is seeking worker status comes amid intense scrutiny on new working relationships derived from the gig economy, in light of a range of cases and the Taylor review recommending a new category of ‘dependent contractor’,” Barry Stanton, head of employment law at Boyes Turner, told People Management. “It is perhaps not surprising that this claim will focus scrutiny on a very fundamental relationship.”
According to figures cited by charity The Fostering Network, there are almost 55,000 foster families across the UK, caring for nearly 64,000 children.
People Management has approached Hampshire County Council for comment but had not received a response at the time of writing. However, the council told the BBC that the law is clear and foster carers are not workers.