Homes England loses £24,000 equal pay case

Homes England has lost an equal pay claim brought by a senior employee who was paid £14,000 less than a male colleague.

Quantity surveyor (QS) Jennifer Owen joined the agency in November 2020 on a salary of £51,258 per year, the minimum in her pay band. She was told she could not negotiate a higher wage within the band.

Five months earlier a male QS, Thomas Birch, was hired to carry out similar work on a salary of £65,000, having successfully negotiated a salary at the upper end of the pay range.

According to Homes England, there had been a change in policy about the level within the band that new recruits could be given during the second half of 2020.

However, employment judge Nicholas Roper said in an employment tribunal judgement that there was no written evidence of this.

“The rather vague evidence of the respondent on this point was that the change in policy had been decreed verbally by the HR department and that managers were now encouraged to recruit at the lowest level for the band,” he said.

In April 2022, Owen was promoted to become a regional programme lead and was given a 10 per cent additional responsibility allowance, taking her salary to £56,383 per year.

Following the change of role, Birch reported to Owen yet continued to earn £65,000 a year, or £9,000 more than her.

Owen found out about the difference in pay in November 2021 and complained to Homes England. She was repeatedly told that correct policies were applied at the times of their respective hires, and that there was no sex discrimination in salaries at the organisation.

In October 2022 her job role was regraded and her salary increased to £62,022, while her legal claim for equal pay remained lodged.

Homes England told the tribunal that men in similar specialist roles earned an average of £50,874, while women earned £52,188.

Judge Roper, however, noted that Owen’s case was not arguing wider discrimination against women by the agency.

He said that under the Equality Act 2010 it was up to Homes England to demonstrate what material factor it was citing to pay Owen less than Birch.

“It is not clear what the respondent’s defence of material factor is with regard to this decision,” he said in the ruling, adding that the government housing accelerator “simply failed” to provide evidence for the difference.

Homes England was ordered to pay Owen £24,000, consisting of £19,000 in back pay, plus interest and a compensatory uplift.

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