The Claimant And The Boss:`Pay us to do this, we are not civil servants'

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FOR ANDY Willox, the working families tax credit is one step too far. He has coped with the minimum wage and the working time directive - he even supports them - but he draws the line at the WFTC.

"It is a benefit and we are not a government department," said Mr Willox, who owns Gold Star Cleaning Services, a pounds 1m-a-year office contract cleaner based in Aberdeen. He is the Federation of Small Businesses' regional chairman for north-east Scotland. He has 200 staff, of whom 180 are part- time cleaners. They are mostly low-paid female workers with families, who were previously exempt from the few in-work regulations under the Tories.

Mr Willox estimates the cost of implementing the minimum wage, including set-up costs and wages, was pounds 30,000 last year and the working time directive cost about pounds 24,000.

He has considered challenging the WFTC under the European Convention on Human Rights on the basis that it is a benefit employers should not be forced to administer free on the Government's behalf.

"I will have to ask people whether they have any other benefits. I will be prying into their lives. What happens if I make a mistake and the employee looks at their bank statement and says, `There must be a problem with the benefit'? Pay us to do it? Fine. But we are not qualified civil servants," he said.

Mr Willox might have to hire a part-time worker to handle the administrative work, which will cost another pounds 9,000 a year on top of the extra staff he has needed to cover the new holiday and sick-pay rights available under the working time directive.

"Contracts have been lost because it has not been worth it. We have had to lose 11 or 12 people because of the different conditions. Because of the need to get people filling in, it did not make sense," he said. "The Government has not said, `We know you are suffering', they are just piling it on from every angle."

Philip Thornton