Fired by AI? Just Eat UK couriers ‘deactivated for minor overpayments’

Cases underline growing concerns that hiring and firing decisions are being made by algorithm

Takeaway couriers across the UK have been thrown off the Just Eat app for alleged overpayments as small as £1.35 (€1.50), which many contest, according to a new report by campaign group Worker Info Exchange.

Just Eat drivers, who in many cases are low-income migrant workers, described being instantly removed from the company’s platform – a significant hit to their livelihoods – with little explanation.

Eleven drivers based across the UK, from Edinburgh to Fareham in Hampshire, made formal requests to Just Eat for the data about their cases.

According to the report by the Worker Info Exchange, the responses show that in each case the company highlighted just two or three orders. Just Eat claimed drivers had wrongly recorded themselves as waiting for an order, while GPS coordinates showed them straying away from the restaurant.


These waits triggered payments from the company, worth on average of just £1.44 for each driver. The average wait in question was 18 minutes. In several of the cases, GPS data supplied by Just Eat showed them moving just one or two minutes’ walk away from the restaurant.

The cases underline growing concerns that hiring and firing decisions are in effect being made by algorithm, with little human oversight and few opportunities for workers to challenge them.

Cansu Safak, of Worker Info Exchange, who has been involved in pursuing the couriers’ cases, said: “Just Eat’s approach to providing evidence is: ‘Just take our word for it.’”

Suggesting that other food delivery apps use similar IT and management systems, she added: “This situation leaves workers in the impossible position of trying to defend their innocence against a surveillance system that the platform claims has been reviewed by a human, even if evidence of this review is completely lacking.”

Ed Gomez (46), who was born in Peru, said it was difficult to obtain a full explanation from Just Eat after his account was deactivated. “I couldn’t talk to them – nothing. I sent a bunch of emails, maybe eight emails. It’s impossible to get to talk to them,” he said.

“It’s frustrating, because at that time I was doing this full-time. I have a daughter in Spain and I have to send her money.” Data obtained from Just Eat later showed that he was accused of wrongly claiming £3.45 (€3.90) in wait payments.

Drivers have to swipe in the app when they arrive at a restaurant, and again when they pick up the food.

Couriers said they were sometimes asked by restaurant staff to move away while awaiting orders, to avoid crowding in-house diners – with the risk of triggering Just Eat’s systems.

“They said I had been away from the restaurant for a lot of time. But I’m trying to think of the customer, think of the staff in the restaurant, I’m trying to do the best I can do,” said Gomez.

Marian Tita (30), who came to the UK from Romania and lives with his nine-year-old son, had his Just Eat account deactivated because of two orders he picked up from McDonald’s in Tamworth in 2021 that netted him £1.35 (€1.50) in wait payments.

“I tried to explain to them: the restaurant is busy. I have so many orders from McDonald’s. I can’t park my car near the restaurant because the customers have only one McDonald’s in this city, it’s so busy. It’s a shopping centre there, and I should leave my car away and I should walk,” he said.

“They say: ‘Sorry, I can do nothing because this is the manager’s action.’ They don’t understand me. I tried to explain many times in email what happened. I tried to explain that I have a kid, this is my job.”

A third driver, a 39-year-old man from Bulgaria who wished to remain anonymous, recalled: “I was on a shift, working, and as soon as I complete one delivery, after that, the system kicked me out, and I couldn’t log back in – and within a minute or two I received an email which is saying that for breaching terms and conditions, in the courier agreement, my account has been deactivated and this is a decision which cannot be changed.

“I said to them: ‘How on two or three orders you can close the account? I’ve been working with them throughout the pandemic and everything was fine’. They said nothing after that.

“That was in December, just before the Christmas holidays and it was devastating for me. I just couldn’t believe what was going on. It was hard.”

The assistant general secretary of the UK Trades Union Congress, Kate Bell, said: “These cases show how vulnerable workers are to new technologies. AI is being used to make life-changing decisions like who gets hired and who gets fired. But employment law is not keeping pace.”

Just Eat said that when their system flags activity as potentially fraudulent, the case is examined by a human being before the courier’s account is deactivated.

A spokesperson for the company said: “At Just Eat, it is important to ensure fairness for all couriers delivering on our behalf. This is why we have measures and systems in place to identify and stop fraudulent activity on our platform and when couriers have breached the terms of their courier service agreement.

“We take any concerns raised by couriers on our network seriously, and will investigate and take action as needed if a courier feels they have been wrongly deactivated.”

Most workers who deliver for Just Eat are classified as independent, self-employed contractors. The firm previously offered more than 2,000 of its UK personnel “worker” status that guarantees holiday pay, at least the legal minimum hourly wage and other benefits including pension rights. However, it announced last month it was scrapping those contracts and making all couriers self-employed in the UK, in line with rivals. - Guardian News and Media