Deliveroo driver bit off customer's thumb—now U.K. government cracks down on account sharing

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Delivery apps Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and JustEat have agreed to carry out enhanced immigration checks on people working as riders on its app after pressure from the U.K. government.

The three platforms will increase their right to work checks after scrutiny increased on account sharing practices, which led to high-profile incidents, including the death of a 17-year-old boy and a rider biting off a customer’s thumb.

The change aims to identify and target “substitute riders,” who have carried out deliveries on accounts held by another person. 

There is a decent chance that when you order food on Deliveroo, Uber Eats, or Just Eat, the person delivering to you won’t align with the account name you receive when you place the order.

Under U.K. law, self-employed workers are allowed to substitute themselves with another worker to carry out a job. Companies like Deliveroo have long pointed to this law when questioned on the practice.

Opponents, however, say that it opens a window for people who aren’t legally able to work, due to obstacles like their citizenship status or their age, to easily take shifts on the platform.

“We’re committed to cracking down on unchecked account sharing – and this meeting was a very positive step in the right direction,” said Michael Tomlinson, U.K. Minister for Countering Illegal Migration.

Account sharing

The intervention by the U.K. government comes as delivery platforms face severe pressure following several high-profile incidents related to its substitute riders.

This was put into the spotlight in recent months with the case of Jennifer Rocha, who is facing a prison sentence after biting off the thumb of Deliveroo customer Stephen Jenkinson following a heated altercation.

Roche, who will be sentenced Friday, was working as a substitute driver for another Deliveroo account in December when she delivered a pizza to Jenkinson.

Jenkinson, who is a plumber, told the BBC that he had lost his livelihood following the incident.

However, Jenkinson was unable to go to Deliveroo to ask for compensation.

That’s because while Roche was legally allowed to work in the U.K., because she was working as a substitute driver, Deliveroo couldn’t be held legally responsible for her actions.

“Financially, I’m ruined. I’m unemployed. I’m in a massive amount of debt and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Jenkinson told the BBC.

Campaigners have accused the delivery platforms of turning a blind eye to the activities of substitute drivers. 

Previous investigations have found children routinely worked for the platform, leading to a tragic end for one driver.

Leo, whose surname was not given, began renting a Deliveroo account from another rider when he was 15. 

When he was 17, Leo was killed while driving on a rented motorbike. He had been working for the company for two years when he died, even though the minimum age for Deliveroo riders is 18.

“We are the first major platform to roll out direct right to work checks, a registration process and identity verification technology to ensure that only substitutes with right to work can continue riding on our platform,” a Deliveroo spokesperson said.

“We will continue to work in close collaboration with the Home Office and leaders in industry to support efforts in this area.”

Legal loopholes linked to the self-employment industry have created something of a Wild West for workers’ rights, particularly on delivery platforms.

An investigation by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism from 2021 found a third of drivers £2 an hour.

A crackdown from the government is also likely a part of the U.K.’s anti-immigration clampdown ahead of an expected general election this Autumn. 

In its press release, the government argued that the opportunity for illegal working was one of the biggest “pull factors” driving illegal immigration to the U.K.

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