The world of work. It’s simple isn’t it? You work, you get paid for what you did. Right? Wrong.

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According to Citizens Advice, if you’re a casual worker you could be facing a growing risk of ‘wage theft’, or not being paid for the work you’ve done.

Confusing working hours, poor administration and legal loopholes mean that workers are often being underpaid and – in extreme cases – not being paid at all, the charity said. 

The number of issues dealt with by Citizens Advice regarding unauthorised deductions, or non-payment of wages owed, nearly doubled in a single year from 4,900 in 2014 to 9,000 in 2015. 

The charity, which gives free, independent advice to people to help them sort out  money, legal and other problems, helped with 380,000 employment issues in 2015. And one in six of those related to ‘pay and entitlements’. 

The overall number of problems with pay and entitlements rose by 4% to 67,000 compared to the previous year.

And the charity’s advice trends publication has shown that at the same time, problems with unauthorised deductions increased by 84%. 

This has sparked concerns from Citizens Advice that there’s an emerging trend of ‘wage theft’, where people aren’t getting paid in full for work they do. 

This could be an honest mistake, especially given fluctuating working patterns that lead to potential miscalculations in the number of hours people have works.

But sometimes, unscrupulous employers are deliberately underpaying people, Citizens Advice found. 

This can be by taking money from their wages, deliberately misrepresenting their working hours, paying below the national minimum wage, or just not paying wages for a long time or not at all.

'Wage theft' could be down to innocent mistakes, or it could be due to unscrupulous employers, Citizens Advice says. Image by Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock.com

In one example a cleaner asked Citizens Advice for help after going months without proper pay. 

Other workers reported bosses withholding rotas so they couldn’t check how long they had worked.

In one example, a care worker worked between 12 and 50 hours a week on a zero hours contract and was regularly underpaid. But she was stopped from accessing her previous rotas, making it impossible to prove how many hours she had worked. 

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Bad business practices mean workers aren’t getting the pay they’ve worked hard for. 

“Constantly changing shifts and confusion over working hours can lead to genuine mistakes where people aren’t always paid what they’re owed. “

At the same time, unscrupulous employers are misrepresenting people’s work and deliberately underpaying them, making it hard for people to prove that they’ve been shortchanged. “

As more people are in casual and insecure work, it’s particularly concerning that there’s an emerging trend of pay errors and wage theft which can further undermine people’s financial security.”

It’s important that employers take care to make sure people are paid for the hours they’ve worked and anyone struggling with a pay issue can get help from Citizens Advice, she said. 

Workers trying to resolve pay issues can use dispute resolution services through ACAS – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services – or take their employer to an employment tribunal. 

But Citizens Advice said the introduction of fees in 2013 to make a claim to an employment tribunal meant the number of applications had fallen by two thirds.

In November 2015, Citizens Advice gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee showing that four in five people who came to the charity said they would be deterred from making a claim to an employment tribunal because of high fees.

Where a claim reaches hearing stage, fees are £1,200 for unfair dismissal and discrimination claims or £390 for all other claims.