The proprietor of a nursery in east London has become the first person to suffer a criminal prosecution for breaking the UK minimum wage laws.
Staff in nurseries are often low paid
Mrs Teresa Aguda, owner of Rascals Day Nursery in Walthamstow, has been fined £2,500 after being prosecuted by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
She had refused to let HMRC staff enter the nursery to check if she was paying her staff the right amount of money.
Aguda pleaded guilty to obstruction and also had to pay £500 in costs.
She had "demonstrated a clear and deliberate intent to obstruct officers and this was a scandalous breach of the National Minimum Wage legislation" said the judge at Waltham Forest Magistrates' Court.
The minimum wage was introduced in 1999 and currently dictates that workers aged 22 and over have to be paid at least £5.35 an hour, a rate that will rise to £5.52 in October.
Policing the law is the job of Revenue compliance officers, who normally enforce it by giving advice to employers and also by taking some to employment tribunals.
There were nine tribunal cases in 2005/06.
In the case of Aguda and her nursery, the Revenue's officers decided to prosecute because of what they called a "wilful refusal to co-operate" when they turned up to inspect her accounts.
"Assuming we now get access we will be able top identify who, if anyone, was not being paid the national minimum wage," said a spokeswoman.
The Revenue has been looking at the nursery sector where staff are traditionally low paid.
The hairdressing industry has already been scrutinised and the hospitality and hotel industries are next.
In some cases businesses are visited at random, in others the Revenue officers act on tip-offs or complaints.
"Where we do find non-compliance it is usually a misunderstanding of the latest rates," said the Revenue spokeswoman.