Investigation: Northampton Deliveroo riders speak out

Working alongside the Bureau of Investigative Journalism today we look at the pay and conditions of Deliveroo riders in Northampton

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By Natalie Bloomer 

When Deliveroo launches on the London stock market next month it is expected to be one of the largest London listings in years. The company has seen a surge in business during the pandemic and has announced an expansion into new areas including more towns in Northamptonshire. 

But while the company celebrates its growth, a new investigation has revealed that some of its workers are being paid less than the minimum wage.

Deliveroo says that riders are paid more than £10 an hour on average but research by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows that half of the couriers earned less than that for the time they were logged into a shift, while one in three received below the legal minimum wage for workers over 25 and one in six got less than £6.45 an hour.

Creating the first dataset of its kind on the gig economy in the UK, pay documentation covering 12,000 sessions by more than 300 riders from various towns and cities has been analysed.

There are 50,000 Deliveroo riders working across the UK but because they are classed as self-employed there is no legal obligation to offer them worker benefits or the minimum wage.

Founded in London in 2013, the company delivers food from restaurants that do not usually deliver and groceries from shops that would usually require a delivery slot to be booked in advance. Customers can click on the Deliveroo app and instantly find out what is available to them at any given time.

Among the companies that use Deliveroo for their deliveries are McDonalds, Nandos, Pizza Express, KFC, Co-op, Sainsburys and Aldi as well as independent retailers.

In Northampton, where the service is already available, it is not unusual to see Deliveroo couriers waiting outside restaurants ready to collect a delivery. As part of the Bureau’s investigation, NN Journal spent a morning speaking to some of them about their experience of working for the company.

One rider who has been working throughout the pandemic said:

“I’ve been working for one year in Northampton for Deliveroo. Sometimes it is okay but I have to work very hard to make decent money. Some weeks I work 60 to 70 hours and many of the deliveries I do on my bike are at least four or five miles. I don’t understand how they decide which people get each job because when I talk to the guys delivering by car they are often getting shorter journeys.”

Couriers are not told how deliveries are assigned or how their pay is calculated. On the company’s website it says:

“Riders get paid for each delivery they make. The exact delivery fee varies per order and includes a variable distance fee. You will be told of the delivery fee payable before you accept the order.”

What we do know is that an algorithm is used to predict order timings based on things like the time of day, the number of couriers logged into the Deliveroo app and the distance between the restaurant and the customer. Another system is used to calculate pay. The pay structure has changed at least three times since 2017.

While exactly how fees are determined is unclear, Deliveroo says it is only “meaningful” to calculate rates of pay for deliveries, not the time between orders. This is perfectly legal.

When we visited Northampton, a group of Deliveroo couriers were gathered at McDonalds at the Drapery. Some were impatiently waiting for food to be packed up and many complained about waiting too long between deliveries. 

The fee that a rider receives is set before they accept it, so if the restaurant takes longer than the Deliveroo app predicted to get the food prepared and delivered the courier receives no extra money. For example if the restaurant has a problem and the delivery is delayed by half an hour, the rider is not paid for that extra time as they have already accepted the fee.

There is also no pay available for the waiting time between logging into the app and receiving the first order and no pay for shifts where no orders are assigned. Deliveroo says both its fee per order and earnings at busiest times have increased year on year, but the Bureau’s analysis also suggests that rider average earnings and average deliveries per hour have fallen over the past three years.

Alex Marshall from International Workers of Great Britain union who worked with the Bureau on the investigation says:

“I’ve spoken to hundreds of riders who’ve been logging in, and logging off, without receiving any work for two, three or even four hour periods.

“What we have clearly exposed here is just the tip of the iceberg. These are the people who have fallen below the bare minimum requirements we expect for workers. This is before you factor in the cost of doing the job, the lack of rights, the lack of pension and the lack of holiday pay.”

Speaking to NN Journal one of the Northampton couriers said:

“On a busy day it is good but when it is quiet the pay is very bad. Today is bad, we're just waiting for orders. I use a car now for deliveries, I used to work on the bike but when the weather is bad and it’s raining and windy it's very hard being out there all day.”

Another told us that he had worked a 15 hour shift the day before and often has to do that to make up the money he needs to survive. 

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers should be treated as workers, not self- employed. This would entitle them to the minimum wage and other employment rights. It is thought that the ruling could also lead to workers having to be paid from the moment they log in to a company app until they log out.

Professor Alan Bogg, a labour law expert, said the Bureau’s investigation could prove crucial in securing riders legal protections not currently afforded to them, such as guaranteeing the minimum wage. 

“If it’s the case that riders are being paid this low a rate that will reinforce the argument that this is precisely the group that is in need of statutory protection.”

Deliveroo says the Bureau’s sample was “not a meaningful or representative proportion” of their riders.

“Riders do not work in hourly patterns, and time logged on does not mean they are working: riders are free to reject work without penalty at any time and can work for other companies while logged in to our app. Almost half of orders are rejected at least once.”

The company says it looks at average pay “from the moment a rider accepts a Deliveroo order until they complete the order. This is more than the national minimum wage.”

“Deliveroo riders have the complete freedom to choose when and where to work and can choose which deliveries to accept and which to reject,” the company says. 

“50,000 riders choose to work with Deliveroo, and thousands more people apply to work with us every week. Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most - flexibility...Riders in the UK are paid for each delivery they choose to complete and earn £13 per hour on average at our busiest times. We communicate with thousands of riders every week and satisfaction is currently at an all time high.”