Pensioner must pay £3.5k compensation after wife dies

George Lomas

George Lomas, a 77-year-old from Scholar Green in Cheshire, has been forced to pay a carer £3,500 after her hours were reduced when his wife died. His wife Rose has suffered from Parkinson's disease, and the council had paid carer Jayne Wakefield to provide care for the previous five years.

However, when Rose died in March, a bizarre turn of events left Lomas himself facing a bill for thousands of pounds.
After Rose died, Lomas asked Wakefield to continue to visit his home, for fewer hours than before, to help him as he struggled to come to terms with the loss of his wife.

The Daily Mail reported that the arrangement continued for a few days, but the day after the funeral 55-year-old Wakefield handed in her notice and asked for redundancy pay. She said she had been forced to resign as her hours had been reduced from 30 hours a week to 16 hours without notice, and she had received no written offer.

The Daily Telegraph reported Lomas as saying: "How was I supposed to give notice? You don't have notice when your wife is going to die."

He was considered her employer because for those few days after his wife's death he had been paying her privately, so he was personally liable. A council spokesman told the Stoke Sentinel: "Mr Lomas has not been in receipt of adult care services from Cheshire East Council. His care arrangements, therefore, were a private matter and the council is not liable for claims made via an employment tribunal."

Acas confirms that this is how things work for a private employee: "When an employer dies it is classed as a frustration of contract. This means their contract ended on the day the employer died. The employee would not be entitled to notice pay but would qualify for a statutory redundancy payment if they had worked for this person for at least two years."

Lomas did not pay, so Wakefield took him to an employment tribunal, where she was initially given nothing. However, on appeal she received £3,568 in redundancy pay and compensation for constructive unfair dismissal and breach of contract.

Your responsibilities

It's a shocking turn of events, but it's also a vital reminder for anyone paying for any kind of care. As councils cut back on care funding, and more elderly people need help in their homes, it's likely that more private carers will be employed.

If you use a carer provided by an agency, the agency themselves will employ the carer and deal with their legal responsibilities. If you use a self-employed carer - who has other clients, has control over when they work, and issues regular invoices - then the carer themselves will take on these responsibilities. However, if you employ them direct you face a number of issues.

These include dealing with their tax and national insurance through PAYE, sick pay, holiday pay, and ensuring that your home insurance covers you for any liabilities. From 2015 you will have a responsibility to pay into their pension too. You also need to take into account redundancy pay after you die.

The experts say that for most people, using an agency or a self-employed carer becomes the most sensible approach. If you choose not to take this route, it's essential to have a contract of employment, so you both understand what is involved, and there are no nasty surprises further down the line.

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