C4J says that in other sectors such as food delivery and taxis, this approach has been proven to fall foul of HMRC IR.35 regulations.
C4J wants to set up Group Litigation Orders - popularly known as ‘class actions’ - and a representative has told Estate Agent Today that some 100 formerly self employed agency workers have already signed up.
A C4J statement says: “Purplebricks, as an example, state that they have 600 Local Property Experts. Their rate of churn is estimated to be 50 per cent per annum. This could mean that since launch in 2014 some 2,700 LPEs have worked with that particular organisation plus many more TOs. Most will have previously been designated as self-employed and, based on C4J’s claim, are potentially in line for a pay-out of thousands of pounds each if the claim is successful.”
Peter Fletcher, spokesperson for Contractors for Justice, says: “HMRC and the courts are clear that just designating your staff as self-employed does not mean that you may operate those workers as employees in all but name just to save the company from paying holiday pay, statutory pension contributions and so on. In recent cases involving Amazon and Uber it’s been found that self-employed contractors were in fact workers in the eyes of the law.
“Our action against online estate agencies that may have designated their workers as self-employed when in fact they may not have been, is being commenced in a similar vein to these other well-known outcomes and therefore we are very confident of our success in reclaiming in some cases many thousands of pounds for the individuals concerned.
“I’d urge anyone that believes they may have been financially disadvantaged by their employment status, to register themselves at the C4J website as soon as possible.”
C4J says the initial basis of the action centres upon the non-payment of holiday pay which the claims company states previous and current workers may be due if it is proven that they were in fact employed.
The claim will also seek to recover the workplace pension contributions that potentially should have been made by the ‘employer’.
C4J says these two elements alone add up to 12.07 per cent of each year’s earnings for holiday pay and up to 8.0 per cent for pension contributions, plus interest.
The C4J statement continues: “The total of the claim could therefore amount to tens of millions of pounds if current and former self-employed agents and territory owners are, in fact, deemed by the courts to have been workers despite their self-employed label.”
C4J says its action on behalf of individuals would relate to business models that directed agents ‘as if they were employed’.
The C4J statement specifically mentions Purplebricks and Yopa as being in that category, but it goes on to say: “Hybrid agencies that merely support self-employed agents such as Keller Williams, eXp, Nested and the like are deemed to operate a significantly ‘hands-off’ model and are likely to sit outside of any such claim.”
The claims company, which says its representing agent workers on a no-win no-fee basis, has set up a claims line for individuals who believe they may be in the affected categories. You can see that here.
C4J has also instructed Proper PR, a specialist property public relations firm led by Russell Quirk - the founder and head of the original Emoov online agency.
“Clearly this proposed action is just that, an action, and no-one is as yet pre-empting the outcome or presupposing that any specific online estate agency will be proven culpable. Our job is simply to raise awareness of this issue so that individual agents that may have a claim are able to put that claim to the test formally and in the knowledge that they sit with hundreds of like-minded agents that might each be owed a substantial sum of money” says Quirk.
Purplebricks this morning told EAT: “All Territory Operators entered into a commercial licence agreement and this was clearly set out in their contract with Purplebricks. We have always taken legal advice in regards to our licensing model – and the advice is very clear that these individuals were operating as limited companies, running their own business and with full control over their own staff.”
Yopa has this morning been asked for its response.