By Emma McClelland and Dora-Olivia Vicol - 24 March 2021
Radka* came to us in October for help applying for pre-settled status. Originally from Bulgaria, she had been living and working in Italy since 2000, moving to the UK with her partner in 2020. After successfully obtaining pre-settled status, she started the process of applying for a national insurance number (NINO). This was meant to be a formality. She had pre-settled status and every right to live and work in the UK. And yet, months later, Radka is still struggling to get a NINO. This is the story of how Covid, Brexit, and digital barriers created the perfect storm can confine recent EU migrants to unemployment.
Why the NINO matters
A NINO enables British and migrant workers in the UK to pay National Insurance contributions. These, in turn, are used to determine eligibility for welfare and housing benefits, and many employers refuse to hire applicants without a NINO (even though legally they could). In many ways, the NINO is the first step to living a normal life in the polity.
Prior to the pandemic, the NINO application was done in person by attending a Job Centre. Yet due to Covid restrictions, Job Centres were closed and, for a period of nine whole months, applications were suspended. It was only in December that the DWP resumed the allocation of NINOs, and only for those EU migrants who already had settled or pre-settled status. They would call the DWP, wait for up to 1h to speak to an adviser, then receive a paper application at their home address. They’d fill it in including their EUSS share code, and hope that the DWP processes their application before the code’s 30 day validity ran out.
EUSS share codes get in the way
“As soon as it was reinstated, I submitted my application,” Radka recalls. Two months passed before she received a response from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Frustratingly, her share code had expired. With our help, Radka contacted them again and provided a new code. But the answer was still no.
“After another month, I received a letter refusing me a national insurance number because the code turned out to be invalid,” Radka explains.
To this day, the reasons behind her rejection remain opaque. Radka met all the criteria, but had a door shut before her, with no right of appeal. Our team helped her make a new NINO application. But some serious damage was done.
Without a NINO
Although EU migrants can legally work without a NINO, by being placed on an emergency tax code by their employer, in practice, many risk-averse employers simply refuse to hire candidates without one. This left Radka, and the many people in her situation, in limbo. Unable to work, she was dependent upon her partner.
Beyond the period of unemployment, the experience left her doubting the quality of life she could build in the UK. “I am shocked by the bureaucracy and carelessness of it all. It has worsened my quality of life. I never experienced anything like this during my 20 years of living and working in Italy. There is simply no comparison.”
Her silver lining was that over the course of this experience she found a new source of support in our advisers. “I want to thank the Work Rights Centre and the people working there for their competence and professionalism,” Radka comments.
From March to December 2020, our advisers have assisted over 50 EU nationals who were unable to find work due to the NINO suspensions. We have written to the DWP, and are campaigning for access to fair, lawful employment. Stay up to date with our case studies by signing up to our newsletter, or support us with a donation.
*Radka is not her real name← Case Studies