The heartbroken mother and step-father of a teenager killed while working underage for Deliveroo have spoken out, calling for tighter restrictions on ID checks when ‘substitute’ riders are used – saying ‘he just wanted to earn money’.
Leo, whose surname his family are reluctant to reveal for fear of reprisals in their local community, died aged 17 while riding a borrowed motorbike he was using to deliver food.
The minimum age to deliver for the firm is 18 but Leo was working for the company after getting the job via a rented Deliveroo account, which he first signed up for two years earlier at just 15.
The teenager’s step-father Patrick and mother Petra were interviewed following a BBC investigation into how underage children are sold delivery jobs on the online black market – and are able to do so because major food apps let riders nominate a ‘substitute’ to cover for them if they can’t make a shift. Currently, a stand-in employee isn’t subject to the same ID checks.
Account holders on apps such as Uber Eats, Just Eat and Deliveroo are leasing out access to their profiles, using the ‘substitution’ rules that allow them to send someone else to deliver food on their behalf under employment law.
Delivery firms require ‘riders’ to submit proof of identity and the right to work and undergo a background check before they are allowed to accept orders, but no such checks are carried out for any substitutes.
Leo’s stepfather Patrick told the BBC that Deliveroo hadn’t contacted them after his death, saying: ‘Well, they wouldn’t would they? They wouldn’t even know he existed.’
He added: ‘No-one’s accountable, they just take the money. It’s not right.’
Patrick added that the prospect of earning up to £200-a-night was tempting for underage teenagers.
His step-father said: ‘Leo wanted to be a millionaire, whatever it took.
‘Whatever it took, he just wanted to earn money and deal and hustle.’
The family and the government have now called on the firms – part of a market thought to be worth more than £11.2billion, according to analysts – to tighten up their rules on appointing substitutes.
A food app driver may be delivering takeaways on a motorcycle or moped with L plates but this is no indication of their age or whether they have their own rider account or are using someone else’s.
It’s understood that in most cases, the person selling their account to another person to use is just providing their profile and not a bike for the underage person to use. They will often use their own bike, but an L plate doesn’t help customers identify whether or not the delivery driver is under 18 or not.
The current UK law means it’s legal in the UK to ride a moped or motorbike with an engine up to 50cc at 16, or up to 125cc if you’re over the age of 16, provided the rider has passed compulsory basic training (CBT), known as a DL196 certificate. Riders must then display L-plates and pass a full motorcycle test within two years.
Food delivery firms promote substitution policies as a perk of the ‘flexibility’ that comes with being self-employed.
Riders who work for firms such as Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats and others such as HungryPanda – which caters to Chinese businesses – are legally recognised as self-employed rather than working for the companies themselves.
However, this place the onus for responsibility on those who lease out the accounts.
Uber Eats’ policy states: ‘When appointing your substitute, remember you’re still fully responsible for all activities performed by your substitute while using your account and that it’s your responsibility to make sure that they meet all of the requirements to deliver with Uber Eats.’
Just Eat, meanwhile, says: ‘You are fully responsible for all activities performed by your substitute while using your account and it’s your responsibility that they meet all of the requirements.’
Deliveroo tells riders: ‘Please remember that you’re responsible for your substitute and their knowledge of how to carry out deliveries safely.’
However, this has prompted the creation of a black market in food delivery accounts, with offers being made openly on social media to ‘rent’ vetted profiles for a small amount of money.
Offers seen by MailOnline in online communities claim to lease accounts on Just Eat and grocery delivery service GoPuff for around £60 or £70 – which can easily be recouped with a night’s work.
The BBC claimed to have contacted some of those offering accounts while posing as a 16-year-old boy, using an AI-generated profile picture of a youngster.
Those who purported to offer access said someone being underage would not be a barrier to borrowing an account – with the firms carrying out no checks on any substitutes.
Studies carried out by Worker Info Exchange, a research body investigating delivery and ridesharing platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo, claims substitution policies are enabling modern slavery.
A report published by the body in April alleged that people were taking advantage of lax security checks to create huge numbers of rider accounts, likely to be leased out to substitutes with no legal or background checks.
It claimed to have found evidence of 49 Just Eat accounts being linked to a single bank account receiving all of the payments for their activity. The accounts were later deactivated after being reviewed by the firm.
Home Office minister Robert Jenrick has called on food delivery firms to vet substitutes as well as full-time riders – and met with representatives from each company to discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Mr Jenrick later said: ‘When someone orders a takeaway to their home, they deserve to know that the person arriving at their door has been properly vetted and is who they’re expecting.
‘Unchecked account sharing places the public at risk, enables – and therefore encourages – illegal migration, and leads to the exploitation of workers. That’s why I’m calling on these companies to end the use of unverified substitution.
‘We’re taking the action needed to safeguard the British public and prevent the scourge of illegal working. It is critical these companies work with us to achieve this.’
MailOnline contacted the major food delivery platforms, asking them to outline what they do to combat illegal use of accounts.
Deliveroo said it takes a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to riders who fail to meet legal obligations when delivering on their behalf. It added that it took its responsibilities ‘extremely seriously’, but did not comment on whether it would vet substitutes.
A spokesperson said: ‘All Deliveroo riders must have the right to work in the UK, whether that is someone who holds an account with us or an individual who is subcontracting an account.
‘If a rider is found to be without the right to work in the UK, we will stop working with them with immediate effect.’
Just Eat said: ‘We have high standards and robust criteria in place for couriers delivering on behalf of Just Eat. This includes ensuring couriers are over the age of 18, carrying out basic criminal checks (DBS), and making sure they have the right to work in the UK.
‘Self-employed independent couriers have the legal right to use a substitute. Under the UK’s employment laws, the courier account holder is responsible for ensuring their substitute meets the necessary standards to deliver on our network.
‘If we find that our high expectations are not met, we will immediately take action, including removing couriers from our network.’
Uber, however, said it was keen to work with the government to find a way through the substitution issue.
An Uber Eats spokesperson said: ‘We understand that there are concerns around this issue, and we are working closely with the Government and want to find a solution.
‘All couriers who use the Uber Eats app must pass a criminal background check, be over the age of 18 and hold a valid right to work in the UK. Any courier that fails to meet these criteria will lose access to the app.’