Friday, 12 June 2009

Credit where credit’s due - HMRC v Annabel's

HM Revenue & Customs has claimed that it has struck a blow for lower-paid workers in the form of restaurant and nightclub staff. As many of you will know, there is a common system in restaurants where tips are collected whether through cash or as additions to credit card billing and allocated to a member of staff, the troncmaster, who is responsible for delivering shares of these gratuities to his or her colleagues. Normally the person who has the distribution responsibility deducts PAYE as appropriate which is dealt with separately from the normal wages. Yes, some cash tips go straight into pockets, but that’s another story.

Probably in common with many establishments, it turned out that Annabel’s, the well-known London nightclub, was paying its workers less than the National Minimum Wage (NMW) on the grounds that when seen in conjunction with the tips paid by the troncmaster the total earnings exceeded the NMW.

HMRC took a dim view of this and issued enforcement notices against which the employers appealed, claiming that the monies received in total by the employees satisfied the minimum amount specified under the NMW regulations. The Employment Tribunal and subsequently the Court of Appeal agreed with HMRC that the minimum wage had not been paid by the employers and they were in breach of the rules, and thus restaurant and nightclub workers must be paid the NMW before taking into account tips.

This is indeed a landmark decision which will benefit many thousands of workers who will now get at least the National Minimum Wage plus tips, even if it means that restaurant bills will be going up to cover the shortfall in monies taken. HMRC deserves credit for clamping down.

Should we feel sorry for the Annabel’s employees who have been so exploited in the past? Probably not, because at such a high class establishment the punters tip very generously and word is most Annabel’s staff are higher rate taxpayers already.

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