Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher [2011]

Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher [2011]

Autoclenz Ltd v Belcher [2011] UKSC 41 is a landmark case in UK labour law and English contract law, decided by the Supreme Court. The case revolves around the interpretation of statutory protection for workers' rights, emphasising the importance of considering the relative bargaining power of parties in determining employment status.

Autoclenz Ltd, a company providing valeting services, engaged twenty car valeters, including Mr Paul Huntington and Mr Belcher. The valeters worked under contracts that described them as self-employed. Autoclenz later invited them to sign new contracts, reinforcing the self-employed status, stating they had no obligation to work, no right to receive work, and could provide substitutes. The valeters claimed holiday pay and the national minimum wage, challenging their classification as self-employed.

The Employment Tribunal, led by Judge Foxwell, found the valeters to be employees or workers. It held that the contracts' written terms did not accurately reflect the true agreement between the parties. The tribunal considered factors such as lack of control over work, inability to subcontract, and the integration of valeters into Autoclenz's business.

The Court of Appeal, led by Smith LJ, affirmed that the valeters were employees despite the contracts designating them as self-employed. It emphasised that the true nature of the relationship must be ascertained from all circumstances, not just the written agreement. The court rejected the argument that the employer's intention to mislead was necessary to challenge the written terms.

The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Court of Appeal's decision. Lord Clarke, delivering the judgment, emphasised that contracts of employment should be treated differently from commercial contracts due to potential inequality of bargaining power. The court doubted the view that contractual documents expressed the true intentions of parties unless a sham was intended. It stressed that the actual agreement must be gleaned from all circumstances, adopting a purposive approach.

The case highlights the need to consider the factual matrix and relative bargaining power in determining employment status. It underscores the courts' authority to disregard written terms that do not reflect the true agreement between the parties. Autoclenz reaffirms the significance of protecting workers' rights, particularly when faced with contracts that may not accurately represent the employment relationship.
Back to blog
UOL Case Bank

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.