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08 Apr 2021

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EU nationals who were blocked from applying for national insurance numbers (NINO) last year now find they cannot access the £500 Covid-19 Test and Trace Support payment.

To complicate matters, now NINO applications have re-opened, EU nationals find they cannot apply for one without first making an application for EU Settled Status (EUSS) – despite the EUSS deadline not being until 30  June 2021. This is the new post-Brexit world that EU nationals now find themselves living in.

Tomas’ story

Tomas* is a Polish* national asked to isolate from work due to a positive Covid-19 test. Tomas is married with two children.

With support from a local charity, he applied for the £500 Test and Trace support payment while his work and income were limited due to self-isolation.

However, Tomas’ application was not successful as he did not have a valid national insurance number. Tomas arrived in the UK in September 2020 when NINO applications were suspended, due to Covid-19.

To make things worse, he also does not receive any payslips from his employer; when he had asked for payslips, he was told: ‘if you’re going to be this much trouble you might as well leave’.

Tomas can make an application for a national insurance number only once his EU settled status is in place. Tomas does not speak English and has limited digital skills, so he will need support to make his EUSS application.

In the meantime, Tomas and his family were supported with food parcels by local charities and a £30 emergency fuel funding by his local authority.

But this was insufficient to cover all of his living costs, and the family has now fallen behind with rent and other bills.

After his isolation period ended, Tomas was able to work again. However, his zero-hour contract means he is now not offered as many hours as he had been before he had to self-isolate, as other workers (similarly on zero-hour contacts) were able to move into his shifts to avoid any shortfall in demand left by his self-isolation. Tomas has submitted an EUSS application and is waiting for it so that he can next apply for a NINO.

* details anonymised

What is the Test and Trace support payment?

The NHS Test and Trace Support means that individuals might be able to get a payment of £500 if (1) they have been told to self-isolate because of Covid-19 and they cannot work from home; or (2) they are the parent or guardian of someone who has been told to self-isolate. The payment scheme was introduced to support low-paid workers losing earnings if they need to isolate.

Where does NINO come in?

NINO (and payslips) can form part of the eligibility process to make a claim under the Test and Trace support payment.

EU nationals arriving in the UK must make an application for a NINO, allowing them to work and pay national insurance and tax contributions.

A NINO also acts as a personal identification / reference number when communicating with the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs.

For most of 2020 EU nationals were unable to apply for NINOs. At the time, the Government said that suspending this application route was due to capacity issues during the national lockdown, as staff had to be redeployed to process benefit claims.

NINO applications re-opened in December 2020. However, individuals can currently apply if they have entered the UK on a visa, a UK passport, a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card or have registered for EU Settlement Status (EUSS).

Tomas entered the UK exercising his EU freedom of movement rights before the end of the transition period laid down by the Withdrawal Agreement – in other words, while EU law on free movement still applied.

Individuals like Tomas are able to start work without a national insurance number if they can prove they have the right to work in the UK, and EU nationals could do this by showing their passport or ID card.

This provision continues up until the end of the grace period (30 June 2021), but not having a NINO can cause barriers to finding employment as well as paying emergency tax on any income.

What’s EUSS got to do with it?

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals and their non-EU family members must make an application to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021 to secure their continued right to live and work in the UK after Brexit.

Individuals don’t need a NINO to make an application for EUSS nor do they need one in order to start working in the UK.

However, individuals, like Tomas, do need an EUSS decision to make an application for a NINO number. As of February 2021, there are currently 400,000 submitted EUSS applications awaiting decisions.

For EU nationals like Tomas, whose EUSS decision is pending, this creates a barrier to making NINO applications.

The immediate consequences of this for Tomas and his family were the complete loss of their income while they were self-isolating, depending on charitable support for their basic needs such as food and fuel to ensure the family had heating and hot water.

Without this it would have been practically impossible for Tomas to be able to self- isolate. Further, the family are now in debt and unable to regain their pre-Covid-19 income levels.

All the while, they wait for their EUSS so they can apply for their NINO and cease paying emergency tax on what income they do have.

It is also possible that there are other EU nationals just like Tomas working with temporary NINOs unaware they now have only 90 days to secure their EUSS for the continued right to live and work in the UK from 1 July.

By Professor Catherine Barnard, Senior Fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe and Fiona Costello, Research Associate at Cambridge University.

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