New guidance on agency workers published by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitrations Service (Acas) will include support around working via Umbrella Companies.

The guidance, which was produced in conjunction with the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), was crafted in response to information received via Acas’s helpline, which showed that many agency workers were unaware of their legal rights.

The inclusion of Umbrella Companies in likely to be welcomed by Umbrella industry benchmark-setter the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA), which has consistently worked to promote greater transparency in the sector in order to stamp out bad practice by a small minority of unscrupulous operators.

Acas reported that a quarter of the calls its helpline received concerning agency work were from people who were being improperly paid. Many revealed that they had been subject to delays in the wage payments by agencies, or were not paid at all, or had been paid incorrectly.

Acknowledging that it was now clear that some agency workers were unsure about their rights at work, Tom Neil, Senior Guidance Adviser at Acas, said, “Agencies should know that workers have a right to receive their wages whether or not the employer has paid the agency.”

The new, easy-to-understand guidance, he continued, explains how the law currently applies to agency workers and covers issues such as paid holiday leave, parental rights, pensions, the 12-week qualifying period for equal pay with permanent workers, joining a trade union and working via an Umbrella Company. It was informed throughout by Acas’s unique insight as conciliators in workplace disputes throughout Britain.

APSCo’s Director of Operations, Samantha Hurley, welcome Acas’ move to strengthen its guidance on agency worker’s rights as an “admirable development”, adding that APSCo was “only too happy to provide input” when approached.

Last month, FCSA CEO Julia Kermode defended reputable, compliant Umbrella Companies against charges by the Scottish Labour Party Leader, Richard Leonard MSP, implying that they were contributing to exploitative working practices in the construction industry. She insisted: “The umbrella sector does not exist to exploit workers but to provide a valued service enabling workers to be employed, with all the 84 statutory rights and benefits that come with employment, whilst also having the flexibility of working on a number of short-term for various end-hirers.

She continued:

“As well as providing stability, the continuity of employment enables workers to access financial products such as mortgages and loans which could otherwise be precluded from someone not in permanent work. Furthermore, if they work simultaneously for multiple hirers, the umbrella employee receives one consolidated pay packet with the appropriate tax and NICs paid to HMRC.”

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