UK: Zimbabweans say they paid large sums care company, but got far less work than expected and lived in squalid houses
LONDON: A care company serving NHS patients has been charging migrant workers from Africa thousands of pounds to work in the UK when the cost of a visa is only a few hundred pounds, the Guardian has learned.
Care workers from Zimbabwe were told to pay the sums to Gloriavd Health Care Ltd in return for arranging social care jobs in and around Leeds and Bath.
They also claimed they were given far less paid work than they had been led to expect, were housed in overcrowded rooms and faced a threat that their conduct could be reported to the Home Office, leading them to fear deportation if they complained.
One woman alleged she sold her home in rural South Africa to pay £6,500 in fees to the company operated by Gloria Van Dunem only to find she and her colleagues had so little work they had to rely on food banks.
“She took all that I had,” said Winnet Mushaninga, 40, a qualified care worker from Zimbabwe who has been living near Durban. “The trauma and suffering was too much. We paid a lot of money. It’s just painful.”
The allegations come after the Home Office added care workers to the UK’s shortage occupation list in 2022 to help fill 165,000 vacancies in care homes and domiciliary care. There has been rising concern about the exploitation of the immigration route by some social care and employment agencies.
Mushaninga told the Guardian she was recruited directly from Africa by Gloriavd and understood the fee would cover the cost of the visa and the certificate of sponsorship as well as two months’ accommodation and access to a full-time job. The Guardian has seen evidence of bank transfers on her behalf to the company’s bank account totalling £5,500.
But on arrival in Britain last April, Mushaninga alleged she had to live squeezed four to a room with mattresses on the floor, earned just £20 a day, and ended up feeding herself from a church food bank.
The Home Office charges no more than £551 for a visa for care workers and the cost of a sponsor licence for a small company to bring in foreign care workers is £536.
Gloriavd Health Care Ltd was set up by Gloria Van Dunem in 2020 and is registered with the Care Quality Commission, which rates it as “requires improvement”. The NHS Integrated Care Board in Leeds said it has awarded the firm two consecutive contracts making it an approved provider to deliver care in people’s homes.
Mushaninga is among several care workers in Yorkshire being supported by the Leeds branch of Acorn, a community union that is running a Carers Fight Back campaign “not only to win back justice, compensation and job security for our members that have worked for Gloriavd, but for every worker across the UK that is experiencing this injustice,” said Rohan Prasad-Weitz, branch secretary.
Van Dunem’s lawyer told the Guardian “she did not accept money from care workers in exchange for facilitating their relocation to the UK”.
“No money was taken by our client for the immigration skill charge and for assigning certificates of sponsorship from the employees,” the lawyer said, adding they had seen evidence that the matters put to their client were “wholly inaccurate” and lacked “any basis in truth”.
In correspondence seen by the Guardian, Van Dunem apparently told another worker she needed to pay £2,900 and she required no less than half of that “before we would be able to issue the sponsorship visa, the official job offer and all other supporting documentation”.
An offer of employment letter from Van Dunem, also seen by the Guardian, said “you will be working 39.0 a week and salary will be £20,480 gross per annum … Accommodation and maintenance will be provided”.
Mushaninga alleged that on arrival, she found she was only allocated two hours of paid work a day over four 30-minute visits spread out from 7am to 8.30pm – no more than £100 a week.
She claims that she and her fellow care workers would wait for hours for their next appointments in parks and bus stations.
On occasion they got soaked in the rain. They didn’t have a car so travelled by bus between appointments. “We ended up going to food banks”.
Shelly Roe, the granddaughter of another client, told the Guardian “there were quite a few red flags” about the care workers the agency sent out to her grandfather’s home in a Leeds suburb.
“They were walking,” she recalled. “They said they had driving licences but they didn’t drive. They were catching buses. But they were polite, well-trusted and very good.”
Mushaninga said she challenged Van Dunem about the quality of the accommodation saying it was not appropriate for adult living. But “she would say: ‘I will just call the Home Office and they will deport you back home.’ She knew I had nowhere to stay back home, so she knew I would keep quiet.”
A WhatsApp message to workers from Van Dunem’s number seen by the Guardian stated: “As per Monday, Gloriavd will be starting reporting to the home office every activity for all workers. I will [be] reporting shift cancel, working for another company …holidays, absence, not attending training, company trying to reach out for work not responding, refusing to assign documents such as tenancy agreements”.
The range of issues appears to extend beyond what the Home Office tells visa sponsors they need to report. Guidance lists reporting duties including when a worker is absent without permission for more than 10 consecutive working days or is absent without pay or on reduced pay for more than four weeks in a year. It says the Home Office does not need to know if a sponsored worker temporarily leaves the UK, for example, on holiday.
Van Dunem’s lawyer said: “Our client being a sponsor licensee has record-keeping and reporting duties,” and “matters such as working for another company, holidays, absences, and unauthorised absences are within the purview of reporting duties under certain circumstances.”
“In some instances, employers may report their sponsored migrant’s circumstances to the Home Office as part of best practice,” the lawyer said and that “should not be construed as a threat of deportation”.
Another Zimbabwean, Benedict Musavengana, 36, told the Guardian he came to work for Gloriavd in January 2023 after paying £1,700 in fees. He said he was assigned only a few hours and was accommodated four to a room in a flat above a takeaway in Beeston, which didn’t have heating.
He was not able to provide documentary evidence for his claims, but said: “It was so, so cold. There was no cooking stove. There was no washing machine. There was no work for us.”
“The way she treated me hurt me a lot,” he said. “It put me in a bad place. My family was expecting me to send something to them. I have a wife and kids … My hope was to work for five years, create something back home so I could sustain myself and my family.”