‘We do not accept this finding’ - Portsmouth Law firm ‘named and shamed’ over pay rate

MP Jo Swinson
MP Jo Swinson
Picture: Paul Jacobs (142476-229) PPP-140824-032155001

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A LAW firm which was named and shamed for failing to pay the national minimum wage says being placed on the list is unfair.

Rowe Sparkes Solicitors, in Kings Road, Southsea, has said the dispute centred on an apprentice’s contract – and that the firm had taken advice on what the rate of pay should have been.

Rowe Sparkes is among 70 employers named by business minister Jo Swinson.

Katie Watts, a solicitor and HR manager at Rowe Sparkes, said: ‘We do not accept this finding which was in relation to an apprentice finishing college earlier than anticipated and the last two months of her salary.’

According to the firm, the apprentice was under a one-year contract from December 22, 2011 on an hourly rate which was above the apprenticeship rate – but below the minimum wage rate – and was then signed off by her college in October 2012 but remained on the apprenticeship contract.

Solicitor and Higher Courts Advocate Tim Sparkes said: ‘HMRC conducted an investigation and determined that, despite the advice we had been given, the apprentice should have been paid the non-apprentice minimum wage for the period after her college course finished.’

The government figures said the solicitors failed to pay £530.96 to the employee.

‘We relied reasonably on what we maintain was correct advice throughout and believe that we did not underpay anyone but rather paid in excess of the applicable rates,’ said Mr Sparkes.

Some 160 firms have been named since a new regime came into force in 2013.

‘Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal, immoral and completely unacceptable,’ said Ms Swinson.

‘Naming and shaming gives a clear warning to employers who ignore the rules that they will face reputational consequences as well as financial penalties if they don’t pay the minimum wage.’

The latest naming and shaming comes a day after the Low Pay Commission recommended a three per cent rise in the adult minimum wage from £6.50 an hour to £6.70 an hour from October, which would be the biggest increase since 2008 if accepted.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: ‘There has to be a concerted effort to make work pay.

‘If this was done, staff would not need their meagre wages to be topped up by taxpayers with benefits to make ends meet.’