Disadvantaged EU nationals roundtable in London’s City Hall

On 1 November 2017 we were invited to speak at the roundtable called by the London Mayor’s Office in regards to the needs of disadvantaged EU Londoners in the light of the approaching Brexit.

We presented challenges and solutions specifically relating to older Eastern Europeans, who are routinelly left out of the Brexit conversations, and contributed to discussion about the shape of future support for EU nationals provided by the Grater London Authority (GLA) and individually London boroughs.

We believe that more disadvantaged and marginalised Eastern European Londoners need:

  1. access to expert information relating their current rights as UK residents and the changes in immigration status to be brought about by Brexit
  2. access to expert advice and casework to help people prepare for the new immigration regime, registration processes and applying for the new settled status
  3. support with collecting documentation that is needed to evidence continuous, habitual residence
  4. outreach activities through trusted information providers, such as charities and faith organisations, so that the most marginalised, impoverished and disadvantaged Eastern Europeans can be reach out to and properly informed

In this context, we think there are gaps that have and will have detrimental impact on our more disadvantaged members of the East European community. These are:

  1. limited capacity in terms of registered immigration advisers – which in turn causes proportionately high costs for immigration services and attracts phoney ‘advisers’ who provide unregulated, wrong advice for high fees
  2. limited expertise of mainstream advice providers relating EU laws and regulations, from residency matters through European coordinated social security regulations to welfare and housing eligibility
  3. weak employment enforcement institutions – we know that many Eastern European workers are forced into bogus self-employment or are not paid fully or just can’t ‘regularise’ their work because employers prefer to avoid taxation; inability to evidence work is single biggest barrier in access to formal residency documentation and may have impact on accessing future immigration arrangements

We think that the role of GLA and local councils could focus on:

  1. providing resources for information campaigns targeting tose EU nationals who may be left behind the Brexit process. Information campaign activities should emphasise intensive outreach and information in various languages, with understanding and respect for cultural differences among diverse EU communities
  2. instigating and advocating for review of the immigration registration regime of the Office of Immigration Services’ Commissioner (OISC). We believe that the Brexit process is of such momentous importance there should be a special provision for registering advisers specialising only in EU immigration matters. It would ease the pressure on existing services, drive down prices and allow non-immigration advisers with large EU user groups to provide registered information and advice to their existing clients, especially in non-typical settings, such as health or schools
  3. advocating, together with the civil society organisations, for increased budgets for the OISC so that the regulator has more resources to investigate and prosecute unregistered ‘advisers’ who collect high fees from desperate EU Londoners
  4. London boroughs should dedicate resources from advice budgets specifically to cater for needs of EU nationals (in particular in boroughs with high levels of EU populations) and to make sure that organisations commissioned to deliver this work have human resources and operate in ways that are linguistically and culturally adequate. Such organisations would need to be registered immigration providers and evidence that they have capabilities to reach out to the most disadvantaged
  5. London boroughs could have excellent role in helping EU Londoners to collect residency evidence, for example by providing data proving the residence in the borough in certain period of time. We believe it’s a feasible and much needed solution as London councils do possess masses of information that can be used as evidence, especially in those cases where EU residents might have lost paperwork or never had it. Data could come from the council itself, schools, health settings and similar

We are interested to know what you think is needed – please share with us on voice@eerc.org.uk or send a message on Facebook!

We guarantee full confidentiality.

National minimum wage is still an issue

While the majority of our clients are aware of National Minimum Wage (NMW), many are still being paid below NMW. The problem is not limited to informal sectors and micro enterprises. For example, one of the clients who was paid below NMW was working ‘cash in hand’ in a local post office.

Many Eastern European nationals are being offered hourly rate below NMW. They are very likely to accept it if they feel they won’t be able to secure any other job. One client was told to ‘f..k off to work next door where she will be paid even less’.

In other cases the hourly rate offered meets NMW criteria. However, individuals are asked to work overtime for which they are not paid or not able to take time off in lieu. Consequently, they are paid well below NMW.

Problems with NMW are frequent in small businesses, for example corner shops, as well in agencies as underpaying employees is one of the tools that businesses use to reduce cost of their products or services in order to be more competitive. In short, for some, exploiting employees by not paying them NMW, it’s a business model.

According to information from HMRC, it takes up to 2 years to investigate one case of NMW and an individual making a complaint has to disclose all personal details, otherwise the case is not treated as a priority. Moreover, because in many Eastern European countries working in breach of employment regulations is seen as an illegal act on behalf of employer and employee alike, people are afraid of being punished if they identify themselves fully to HMRC which means even less workers are likely to refer to this instrument and a low number of cases are taken up by the service.

Our client U worked in a restaurant where all staff were paid below  (NMW). She hardly ever got her payslips. The employer sometimes paid her by cheque and sometimes ‘cash in hand’. U and her colleague approached us asking for support as they reported their employer to HMRC few months ago but believed that no action was taken.

According to the contract, U worked not in the restaurant but for an agency that did not exist (her real employer, the owner of the restaurant, made up the name and other details of that agency).

We helped U to write a letter to her former employer requesting unpaid wages but the employer ignored the correspondence. Consequently, we supported her to make an Early Conciliation notification to ACAS.

With our help, U recovered all the money she was owned.

Challenging unscrupulous employers delivers justice to vulnerable workers but it also empowers them to protect their rights in the future. And this is our mission here at EERC.

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