THE owner of a Wee County nursery has explained why her business appeared on a list of businesses underpaying their staff, expressing disappointment at its inclusion.

Dollar Nursery School was included on a list of more than 500 companies failing to pay the minimum wage released on Tuesday, February 20.

The nursery, located on McNabb Street in Dollar, was added to the list for failing to pay £2,274.67 to three workers.

Now, Carolyn Riddle, the owner of Dollar Nursery, has explained to the Advertiser that the shortcomings resulted from a dispute with HMRC over the paying of apprentices.

The missed payments came from the nursery taking on apprentices, who were required to undertake course work at home in addition to their shifts at the nursery.

A dispute arose between the nursery and HMRC over the payment of these apprentices, which was technically flagged up as missed payments, leading to their inclusion on the Government list.

She said: “As the owner manager of Dollar Nursery School, I am proud of our longstanding commitment to fair wages and apprenticeship rights.

“While our name recently emerged in connection with a past incident, it’s crucial to clarify that our practices have always prioritised paying our employees above the living wage.

“In 2018, it was current practice across the nursery sector not to pay apprentices for any course homework they did in the evenings at home. This position was supported by the sector advising bodies.

“During a routine inspection of our nursery by HMRC, this practice came to light and the HMRC inspector argued that it was contrary to the current regulation.

“With the backing of Skills Development Scotland, External Training Companies, and the whole of the nursery sector, we disputed this. ‘Training from Home’ which is coursework is not specifically referenced on the Government website, a fact which HMRC admitted.

“At this time we were aware we could be fined, however it was a matter of principle. After a lengthy dispute HMRC dug their heels in and fined us, as well as instructing us to pay the equivalent of 2 hours coursework per week completed by the apprentices, backdated to the start of their Apprenticeship.

“Although the number of hours each week is not legislated, HMRC decided 2 hours was appropriate, another point I disputed, as it is personal to the length of time it takes to complete homework.

“The fine was paid in full immediately. Moving forward, we remain dedicated to upholding fair wages and apprenticeship rights, not just within our nursery, but across the sector as a whole.”

Carolyn further explains that going forward, nurseries across the country were informed that they were liable to pay for the course homework their apprentices were undertaking.

She feels that the Dollar Nursery were made scapegoats, with an example being made of them before changes rolled out elsewhere.

She adds: “This was a particularly frustrating, lengthy and stressful period in which I felt Dollar Nursery School had been made a scapegoat.

“The wording used by HMRC according to the Inspector can be misinterpreted especially as ‘training from home’ is not referenced.

“It is extremely disappointing that legislation was unclear and yet HMRC used Dollar Nursery School as the example.

“We are pleased to have played a role in raising awareness and ensuring that apprentices across Scotland receive payment for their homework. Dollar Nursery School remains committed to upholding fair practices and contributing positively to the nursery sector."

The list, published by the UK Government, outed 524 businesses across the country who had failed to pay wages to workers regardless of circumstances.

This ranged from an amount of £515 to one company ordered to pay back more than £5 million to over 36,000 workers.

A spokesperson for the UK Government said: “Over 500 employers are today being named by government for failing to pay the minimum wage.

“Employers being named today include major high street brands, in a clear message from government that no employers are exempt from paying their workers the statutory minimum wage.

“The businesses named in today’s list have since paid back what they owe to their staff and have also faced financial penalties of up to 200 per cent of their underpayment.”