One of Britain's biggest care agencies has settled out of court a claim for allegedly paying below the minimum wage by refusing to reimburse staff for their travel time between home visits.

The claim was brought in the Bristol Employment Tribunal by Caroline Barlow against MiHomecare, part of the Mitie group.

The employee said she often worked 12-hour days for just seven hours' pay because travel and overtime were not paid. Although her hourly rate was £7.68, her average wage was pushed down below the statutory minimum wage (£6.50) because she had to work many more hours than she was paid.

It is understood that Ms Barlow recovered around £1,200 in the out of court settlement, which related to a 4 month period. Ms Barlow no longer works for Mihomecare.

This is a wide reaching issue affecting not only the 4,000 or so employees of Mihomecare but also many thousands of domiciliary care workers. It is estimated that there are around 500,000 care workers in the sector. It is likely that many will wish to bring claims against their employers in the wake of this.

It affects those working in rural areas to a greater degree as the travel between appointments is often substantial.

The new mandatory National Living Wage will put more pressure on the care sector. From 1 April 2016 the hourly rate for those over 21 years will be substantially increased to £7.20 per hour for all employees.

The case also highlights the problem of 15 minutes fleeting care visits which Ms Barlow said were distressing to deliver because there is no time to check on the client's emotional well being. Ms Barlow said she was routinely not paid any overtime when visits had to last longer than their allocated time.