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Are all contracts between live-in carers and clients binding?

Most live-in carers have a contract of some sort between them and their client, and when working through an agency there will be a contract that the client and agency have signed before the carer starts to work.

There are two types of contract, namely binding and non binding, and it is worth exploring them both to see what makes a contract legally binding or not.

To ensure that as a live-in carer your interests are being protected, it is important to understand both contracts.

Binding contracts

Any agreement that is legally enforceable is a binding contract. This means that if you have signed a binding contract and do not fulfil your part of the contract the other party (your client) can take you to court, and vice versa. 

Legally binding contracts are signed all the time. These include rental agreements, car hire and mortgage agreements. Should one side stop paying, the other side will invariably take them to court. 

Because the interest of both parties must be protected the binding contract needs to be written correctly.

What will make a contract binding?

The contract must include:

  • An offer and an acceptance

One party offers something and the other party accepts it. This can be services, money, rights etc.

  • Consideration

This is how both parties will benefit and can also include services, money, rights or anything of value.

  • Intention or mutuality

This is the understanding that both parties expect to be bound by the contract and agree to both fulfil their side of the contract.

  • Legality

A binding contract must obey all the laws of the country and of the state where the contract is written. Anything illegal can never have a binding contract.

  • Capacity

Both parties must be legally able to sign the contract. This means that they need to be over 18 years of age and have full mental capacity to sign contracts.

When a contract contains all these points it can be considered to be binding and enforceable by law if it is broken by either party.

What is a non-binding contract?

A non-binding contract will be missing one or more of the requirements for a binding contract. It may also state that the contract is non-binding.

Non-binding contracts are generally used between two parties when they don’t explicitly agree on anything at that time.

A good example of a non-binding contract is a letter of intent. There is no legal requirement for either party to do anything in the contract. Both parties can walk away with no repercussions. No formal agreement is made, and the contract will contain wording that can be misconstrued as binding.

This may include:

  • Limited language

A non-binding contract will not include words like acceptance or deadline as these can be seen as binding.

  • Terms

Non-binding contracts will include words like ‘good faith.’

  • Termination statements

A non-binding contract will not have a termination date which would indicate that it is a formal agreement. Termination tends to be slightly vague regarding start and end dates and duties to be carried out by both parties.

Can a non-binding contract become binding?

Yes, they can if certain requirements are met.

  • Mutual assent

Both parties need to agree to a single offer and all the implications in it.

  • Consideration

This conveys the intent between both parties. In the case of live-in carers, the carer offers services and the client offers payment. 

What about verbal contracts?

Verbal contracts can be extremely difficult to prove, should one party take the other to court.

Generally speaking, a verbal contract needs two elements and a single action, namely mutual assent, considerations and acceptance.

It is never recommended that a live-in carer has only a verbal contract with a client, because unless conditions are written down they cannot be enforced, and may even be denied.

So, what do you do when your client asks you to leave before the end of the contract?

If you work through an agency, they may take things up on your behalf, because, while the client may refuse to pay the carer, they may also refuse to pay the agency their fee. 

The agency has more chances of taking a client to court than a carer, simply because they have more financial backing and more importantly, they have more time.

Live-in carers who have been told to leave will be looking for another placement as soon as possible so they do not incur additional expenses such as accommodation, and travel fees.

Should a live-in carer at a private placement be asked to leave early, the situation is quite different. For a start, there is no backup or support from an agency. Lawyers are expensive, hotels and travel fees mount up and the carer may be without work for some time.

So, who pays the expenses?

Typically, in a binding contract between carer and client, what will be covered is the daily rate of pay, and travel from arrival in the UK to the placement, and return to the airport. This travel allowance may be a set amount or vary depending on travel costs. 

The client is not responsible for paying flights to the UK. Neither are they responsible for paying a return flight, unless this has been agreed between both parties.

Technically, if you have been asked to leave a placement early, the client is required to pay until the end of the original contract. If you as a carer decide to leave the placement early, the client is not required to pay more than up to the day you leave. They are not required to cover your travel because you have broken the contract.

Final thoughts

Binding and non-binding contracts should not be such a grey area, but unfortunately, it is. It may be very difficult for a carer to take a client to court, while working at another placement. The client may also simply refuse point blank to pay more than up to the final day, even though this is written in a binding contract.

If you find yourself in this unpleasant situation, you may be able to recoup some expenses via the agency on your behalf. Sadly, in private placements where the carer is asked to leave, they are very often out of pocket until finding another placement.

Most lawyers offer a telephone conversation which may help you clear up your rights and expectations, so it is worth checking to see exactly where you stand.

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