Probation trainees win action over pay

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MORE THAN pounds 2m is to be paid to a group of trainee probation officers in an out-of-court settlement after the Home Office 'unlawfully' lowered their wages. It made the payment after the trainees took court action claiming the move was illegal and a breach of contract.

The National Association of Probation Officers yesterday claimed the livelihood of new trainees was still under threat and accused the Government of 'managerial incompetence'.

The row broke out after the Home Office reduced the income of trainee probation officers by between 15 and 80 per cent. It followed an Inland Revenue ruling in 1992 that trainee officers were students, not employees, and therefore not liable to taxation. As a result the Home Office introduced a lower allowance in July last year, which meant losses of several thousands pounds for 422 trainees who were paid pounds 7,800 to pounds 9,200 a year.

Napo argued this was unlawful and that the trainees had already accepted college places on the assumption that the advertised wage would be paid. As a result some, who had given up their jobs, resigned from the courses. In October 1993, Napo filed seven test cases for breach of contract. Last month the Home Office, after indicating a will to contest, agreed to settle out of court and pay legal costs.

Last week it also agreed to settle the other 413 trainee cases, costing an estimated pounds 2.3m. Most trainees will receive pounds 5,000 to pounds 10,000, although the highest sum so far was more than pounds 16,000. The breach of contract applied only to the 1992-93 intake and the cuts will apply to all probation trainees after 1994.