Pimlico Plumbers loses court battle against installer

Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins has said he fears that the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the company’s appeal over the employment status of a former installer may lead to “a tsunami of claims” against businesses in the future.

The Gary Smith case started in 2011 with an employment tribunal ruling that Smith could be classed as a ‘worker’ despite his self-employed status. It has been ongoing for more than six-years, has gone through the courts several times and was appealed by Pimlico Plumbers at each stage, leading finally to the Supreme Court.

Smith, a plumber and heating engineer, was paid more than £500,000 over the three years he worked for the London-based firm.

Mullins (pictured)  said: “The shame of all this is that it is generally accepted that current employment law is not fit for purpose, and needs to be changed. But when it’s put to the test in our highest court, there isn’t even the slightest suggestion that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“This was a poor decision that will potentially leave thousands of companies, employing millions of contractors, wondering if one day soon they will get nasty surprise from a former contractor demanding more money, despite having been paid in full years ago. It can only lead to a tsunami of claims.”

The claims by Smith will now be able to be heard by the courts now that his employment status has been confirmed.

Nicholas Wilson, Lord Wilson of Culworth, explained the rights of a ‘limb (b)’ worker, which is stated under s.230(3)(b) of the Employment Rights Act 1996: “If you are to qualify as a limb B worker, you need to establish two things: the first is that you undertook to perform the work personally (if under your contract you consent to have anyone along to do the work, you don’t qualify)… the second thing is, you need to establish is that the other party to the contract can’t be regarded as being a client or customer of yours.”

The court found that as Smith’s contract stated that the dominant feature of his contract was that he was obliged to do the work himself. Pimlico Plumbers regulated his work, and even his appearance and uniform, it was able to market his services as a plumber and heating engineer and had administrative control over his work.

Kitchen designer Diane Berry recently claimed retailers who don’t put sub-contracted fitters on their books are “cheating” the system.

Commenting on the ruling, she said: “This just proves my point that a large part of subby workers should be employed and protected under the law. This looks like they potentially are in a win win as they can stay subby and if they have a problem can attack their (not) employer for all the rights that come with being employed.”


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