Au pair/domestic workers in the UK are entitled to the National Minimum Wage

We were approached recently by a client who was a live-in domestic worker. She had been working approximately 60 hours per week, and receiving payment amounting to £1.92 per hour – well below the national minimum wage of £8.72 per hour. Her employer suggested that the worker was not entitled to the national minimum wage, because of the ‘au pair/domestic worker’ exemption.

Our support and recommendation

In order to clarify her legal entitlements, EERC immediately contacted solicitors from the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU). ATLEU have confirmed that in accordance with the latest case law (Puthenveettil v Alexander & George, & Others 2361118/2013) the exemption is likely to be found unlawful. As a result, according to a recent article published in The Guardian, the UK Government has now asked the Low Pay Commission to make recommendations for amending the exemption in accordance with the judgment.

“The exemption, which was originally designed to apply to au pairs, applies to workers who live in an employer’s family home and are treated “as a member of the family” and benefit from accommodation and meals. But the tribunal heard that the rule has also been applied to maids and other servants, many of whom are migrants.“ As advised by ATLEU, “[t]his is a loophole that has been a conduit to slavery. Traffickers have used [it] to bring in women to households who suffer all kinds of abuses.”

Whilst changes to the exemption are to be made, in the meantime the suggestion that live in domestic workers are not entitled to the national minimum wage should be resisted.

CASE STUDY: Building Confidence

In early 2017 we have started a mentoring project delivering a job seeking support programme for disadvantaged Eastern European migrants.

We support and advise people on their journey to integration in the UK, we want to develop people’s skills, confidence, experience and capacity to lead fulfilled lives as contributing members of local communities.

L, a young woman from Romania came to us after being unlawfully dismissed from her job from a Romanian bakery in north London. She was told not to come to work the next day and not given a proper reason. Our work rights adviser helped her with this case and managed to get her pay for 2 weeks of notice that she was entitled to.

But after this episode, L was demoralised, afraid to look for another job, disappointed. She had done nothing wrong and she thought she was friends with the people who owned the business.

She started building her confidence back when she got the money from her ex employer, in her words: “I was happy to find out that I had rights and that there’s organisations such as yours who can help people understand their rights and demand them.”

Meanwhile, we matched her with an experienced volunteer that helped her develop a good CV and portfolio of her work as a baker. In a matter of weeks, she found another job to match her skills and experience. She now works in a multicultural environment and is able to practice her English every day as well. Her job is better paid and she enjoys it more than the last one.

Her mentor helped her build back her confidence and played a key role in L. getting back on her feet again.

Often, Eastern European migrants find jobs within their social networks. Although this works out OK for some, for many it becomes a story of exploitation.

Exploitation within communities is fairly common with Eastern Europeans and it results from barriers to access to the open British labour market, such as lack of language skills or unfamiliarity with recruitment practices and processes. Moreover, it is very common among British employers to employ an Eastern European supervisor or line manager who also participates in exploitation.

With our support L. managed to break this cycle and better her life.

CASE STUDY: Council Tax Costs Lead Many Disadvantaged Eastern Europeans to Serious Debt Issues

Last week, Trust for London and IPPR released a report which stated that “6 times more council tax is paid by the poorest than the richest Londoners as a proportion of income.” On average the poorest 10% of households in London see 8.1% of their income before housing costs swallowed up by council tax, the think tank said.

We have noticed in the last year that more and more of our clients cannot afford to pay their council tax. Many of them are not aware they are entitled to council tax support, but many times people are not.

Moreover, because of budget cuts from local councils, local authorities cannot really afford to lose any penny and often require the services of debt collection companies, instead of trying to arrange payment with people

A report from Money Advice Trust found that nearly 6 in 10 of the 2.14 million debts referred to enforcement agents in 2014/15 were for council tax. Often the local council is the organisation that will be the most aggressive in chasing people if they fall into financial difficulty. If for some people this might come as a shock, we are all too familiar with this problems in our centre.

Case Study: Mrs T

Mrs. T, Romanian national, came to our centre with a considerable debt for council tax, from her previous accommodation. She and her husband weren’t able to pay the council tax for a couple of months. They had 3 children, one of them with special needs, and she was a stay-at-home mother. She has meanwhile separated form her husband, who has disappeared from the picture, and is not supporting her financially. Mrs T works part-time to be able to take care of her children financially. The council tax debt was already with the debt collection company when she received our advice.

EERC’s Observations

These companies are harder to negotiate with, they are often quite unreasonable, and in this case, they still sent the bailiffs knocking, even though we contacted them in time. The reason for this was that there was some delay with her sending some papers over to them. Moreover, because they weren’t able to locate her husband, they refused to divide the debt in two, making Mrs T responsible for the whole debt. She came to EERC really anxious about the bailiffs coming to her door, and reported that they took away her only valuable possession, a TV which the children really enjoy watching.

We tried to talk to her local council to recall the debt from the debt collection company, explaining the situation, but they were unable to do it.

Our Reccommendations

We are calling for council tax reform, which will take disadvantaged people into consideration. We also urge for the practice of bailiffs being brought in by local authorities to collect debts to stop, or our recocommendation is that they only be used as a last resort, to give disadvantaged people a fair opportunity.

CASE STUDY: A Case Lost in Tribunals

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are benefits meant to financially support disabled people.

Unfortunately, due to years of cuts and change in regulations, disabled and people unfit for work  are finding it harder and harder to access this kind of support.

Last week the Work and Pensions Comittee in the House of Commons came out and accussed the poor decision making behind many cases of ESA and PIP claims. The concerns were to do with  the Department for Work and Pensions’ contractors Atos, Capita and Maximus—to carry out accurate medical assessments, and the fact that a great number of cases end up in tribunals before they get resolved.

The Comittee revealed that 290,000 people claiming PIP and ESA only received the correct award after challenging DWP’s decisions about their disability benefits.

As an advice centre for disadvantaged migrants we can definitely see this happening more often than not.

In our centre, 8 out of 10 cases involving PIP and ESA go to tribunal before they get solved, and when they do, most of these cases are won in favour of our clients.

We are aware that there might be a higher percentage of Eastern European clients that go to a tribunal than the average percentage. And that might be because of the nature of our work – clients come to us when really desperate, sometimes they apply themselves or via friends or accountants, and their application goes wrong, or because non UK citizens need to bring furrther proof (for example, completing the habitual residency test) and so on.

Often, our clients end up in several tribunals before they get their rightfully benefits reinstated.

Case Study: Mr. A.

We recently had a client,  Mr. A., who, a few years ago, had his leg amputated above the knee due to cancer. Back when he was doing chemotherapy, we helped him get his ESA, but we had to prove his Permanent Residency status in a tribunal. Unfortunately, after his medical assessment, he lost his ESA, was declared fit for work, and was asked to claim JSA instead.

In reality, his situation proved impossible for him to find a job. Even though we helped him appeal this in another tribunal, DWP didn’t change their decision.

Moreover, when he first came to our centre, he was just being migrated from DLA to PIP, which initially he didn’t get. We requested mandatory reconsideration, and he was finally awarded PIP for 2 years.

In 2017, when it was time for the renewal of PIP, DWP again decided, after a medical assessment, that he was not entitled to the benefits. Surprisingly enough, although he is missing a leg, he got 0 points for mobility. We knew right away that we would appeal, which we did, but the decision was not reconsidered, therefore we ended up in a tribunal again, for the 3rd time in his case.  We were certain that the mobility points should be awarded, and they were, we won the case, and he was awarded PIP, yet again.

We strongly believe that this should have been resolved when we requested a mandatory reconsideration.

We are certain that the goverment could save a great deal of money and resources if less cases would come to unnecessary tribunal hearings.

Unfortunately, this is one of many cases that we have been dealing with that repeatedly went to tribunals, it rarely happens that the DWP reconsider their decisions, because of the internal targets that staff are imposed.

EERC Recommendations

We would like to see a simplified process that would save the government money, save advisers time and that is more centred around vulnerable clients’ needs.

CASE STUDY: Supporting Families – the Z Family Case study

When a person comes through our doors, it’s hard to tell at a first glance the level of support that they will end up needing from us. Our very experienced senior advisers know how to ask the right questions and find out exactly how they can support individuals and families.

So was the case of the Z family, who were relatively newly arrivers here when they 1st came to us in June, they had been in the country for only a few months. The couple have 4 children dependent on them and a few more adult ones living in the same house. When they came to us they didn’t have any support or benefits, he was working cash in hand, she was unemployed, so as the adult children living with them, who just arrived in the country. They were struggling to pay rent and other bills.

In the past, they tried to apply for child benefit, through an accountant who, not knowing the rules, didn’t managed to get them these rightful benefits and they payed for their services as well.

We immediately applied for child benefits and started supporting Mr. Z and his eldest son in finding legal employment through our peer mentoring program. Our child benefit application was successful.

The eldest son, shortly managed to get a job in construction for him and his younger brother, but unfortunately it was through an umbrella company which was retaining extra fees from his wages. He received advice from our employment rights adviser, and equipped with all this information, the son and his youngest brother managed to easily get another job, a better payed one and stay away from dodgy umbrella companies.

After it became possible, we also applied for child tax credit, application which was successful as well.

In the end, the same peer volunteer mentor who helped the eldest son into employment, supported his new wife into finding a job as well.

Moreover, 3 members of the family were enrolled into our free English classes.

Regarding benefits, we managed to get them £4200 in child benefits, payed backdated, and 100/month onward, and almost £5000 in tax credits for 6 months, and 400/month for the rest of the financial year. Now all the adult members of the family are in legal work, and they moved into a bigger house.

Mr. Z, who is very grateful for our help, said: “you were our main support here in London, we couldn’t have done it without you” and the eldest son added: “What you do for people is truly essential and special, I don’t know how to thank you for this.”

Good advice makes a big difference in people’s lives, and we are always happy to help, call us at 020 8741 1288 to find out how we can assist you!

CASE STUDY: From Not Being Paid to Challenging Your Employer in Court – A Complete Journey

Confusion and lack of information about one’s rights at work is causing high levels of exploitation and unpaid wages in the Eastern European communities. Lack of language skills, lack of knowledge of the system and social exclusion make it harder for workers to understand their rights and makes it easy for unscrupulous employers to take advantage.

Such was the case of our client, S.

S came to us for advice at the beginning of February this year. She was working for an agency as a self-employed cleaner, as many Eastern European women do in London. Her last two invoices were not paid and the agency had withheld £250 to cover the cost of a Health and Safety training that never took place. The money that was withheld in total represented the value of her wages for a month.

S contacted them several times asking for her pay but they refused to speak with her. Eventually she came to our offices and we helped her with a letter requesting overdue payment but the agency did not respond. Consequently, we decided the best way to go further at that time was to make a Money Online claim. After this was made we supported her through all the court procedures.

After the claim was made S learned that she is not the only person in the same or similar situation. We found other cleaners who used to work for the same agency and experienced the same issues on a Facebook group.

Eventually, S won the case in the court but the agency still refused to pay her so we helped the client to enforce the judgement. Finally, after 8 months and two weeks she received the money.

S does not speak any English and when she came to us she did not understand what tools she could use to get her wages back. She was the only working person in the household, supporting her husband and her two children. With no savings she found herself in a very difficult situation. Without our support she would have probably gave up at some point like other members of the above mentioned Facebook group.

47% of clients approaching our employment law advice service are not paid. Withhold wages in many cases put our clients and their families at risk of homelessness.

We often highlighted that self-employed workers and agency workers are particularly vulnerable, as their employment status offers very few rights and protections and for whom there is little recourse in cases of abuse and exploitation.

CASE STUDY: Mr. Gardener

Mr. “Gardener” came to us in grave risk of homelessness and destitution. He is still visiting our centre regularly for help. This is his story:

In November 2014, Mr. “Gardener”, Polish national, came to us seeking advice. He came to the UK in 2006 and worked as a self-employed builder, often more than 45 h/week until September 2014, when his back problems started. His friends advised him to claim Job Seekers Allowance, telling him not to reveal his health problems.

When he came to us, we advised him to take sick leave, and after he got it, we immediately claimed Employment and Support Allowance. Moreover, we managed to convince DWP that Mr.” Gardener” claimed JSA by mistake and to consider his ESA claim as starting when his initial claim was made. The ESA claim was successful and the client got backdated payment after Christmas 2014. His case took a turn for the worst when we also applied for housing benefits, which he as entitled to. Although he had all his papers in order (tax returns and contributions), he was refused by Ealing Council because he is not a British Citizen and was not in full employment at that moment.

Knowing very well this is against EU regulations, we appealed to the council for a mandatory reconsideration of this decision which remained unanswered until May 2015, when we also made an official online complain. By this time Mr. “Gardener’s” situation was desperate, as he already had an eviction notice from his landlord because he was unable to pay his rent all this time. The lawyer we found was able to postpone his eviction, but not to annul it. Eventually, on the 15th of June 2015, the decision regarding Mr. “Gardener’s” Housing Benefits was changed as a result of our online complaint and he received his benefits dating back 28th of October 2014.

Unfortunately, it was too late for our client, as the landlord already had permission from the court to evict him by this time. Moreover, the backdated benefits couldn’t go to his account, but to the landlord’s account, even though he was evicted, making Mr. Gardener homeless. Ealing Council provided him with a temporary accommodation in a hostel not suitable to his needs. He stayed there until 18th of February 2016 when he was provided with a studio flat owned by a private landlord with a rent of £306/week, fortunately entirely covered by housing benefits. His previous flat, would’ve only costed the council £70/week in housing benefits. Eastern Europeans are in a higher risk of destitution.

In London , about 35% of rough sleepers are from East European countries. (Crisis, 2015)

As a result of all these problems and his precarious situation, Mr. “Gardener” started drinking and became an alcoholic again after 9 years and almost became permanently homeless. He was very sad he had to leave his old apartment, where he had a little garden where he liked to grow vegetables, activity which kept him away from alcohol and made him happy. Apart from his very few friends here, we were his main support in these very hard times. His case worker’s relentless dedication and persistence kept him afloat all this time. Without us he would’ve been destitute or even homeless. His very determined case worker managed to put his life back on track.

Unfortunately, Polish Nationals are often discriminated against by local authorities when applying for benefits in the UK, either because of a lack of knowledge, or because of systemic discrimination. The EERC is constantly fighting against such practices and is trying to influence policies that deal with systemic discrimination.


CASE STUDY: Mr. and Ms. D.

In June 2016, an elderly couple, Mr. and Ms. D, came to our office in a desperate situation seeking advice.

Mr. D. was suffering from acute leukaemia and he was not able to work anymore, whilst Mrs. D. has never worked. Therefore, they had no savings and, at that moment, they were unable to pay their rent and had no money for food and other daily essentials.

They had no friends or family to support them. Moreover, because they did not speak English, they were unable to get help from local authorities and proper care in the hospital, even though they were entitled to. They were totally vulnerable, at risk of destitution and homelessness and Mr. D.’s life was in danger.

EERC’s Support

Firstly, we provided them with Food Bank vouchers that covered their food supply for 4 weeks. The next step was to obtain a valid passport for Mr. D., in order to be able to apply for benefits. We sent a letter to the Polish consulate explaining Mr. D.’s desperate situation and asking them to issue him a passport without charge. Our request was successful and within a week Mr. D. got a new passport.

It was important to apply for the benefits they were entitled to. We obtained Personal Independent Payment for Mr. D. within 3 weeks with backdated payments. For Mrs. D., we applied for Career’s Allowance, which she also got within 3 weeks. This money was vital for them to survive.

Next, their housing situation needed to be solved as they had received an eviction notice from the landlord, which we managed to reverse. We chased the Housing Benefit claim started previously for them by their Macmilan (cancer charity) adviser and we applied for social housing from the council. To complete Mr. D.’s benefits claim, our advisers also applied for Employment and Support Allowance which was awarded and backdated from the beginning of his illness. As a result, the Housing benefits came through as well, also backdated.

Lastly, we helped Mr. D. to submit his tax returns for the last 7 years by liaising with an HMRC adviser, who helped him achieve this in one session. The tax returns are going to enable him to apply for permanent residence in the future.

EE nationals are less likely to receive proper assistance from local authorities in the UK due to the language barrier and immigration status. In the case of elderly people this is often accompanied by low levels of technological literacy.

During all this time, we tried to find them suitable accommodation through other means, and we succeeded in securing them a one-bedroom flat in the Polish Retired Persons Association. The place fitted their needs perfectly, they were highly satisfied with it and happy they could eventually move out their previous shared house.

For 6 months, our team worked many hours to help the couple and by December 2016, their life situation was totally different than when they firstly came to see us, they were now living in a nice place, had an income and Mr. D’s health had significantly improved. The amount of benefits we got for them is reaching over 30K.

Elderly migrants are a very vulnerable group because are less likely to know their rights and how to navigate the benefit system.

CASE STUDY: Mr. A. and Access to Benefits

Mr. A. is a terminally ill cancer patient who came to us in October 2016. We succeeded in making the last part of his life comfortable and dignified.

Mr. A. has been living and working in the UK for the past several years. He has been successfully running his own company, paying taxes and never claiming any benefits. He came for help to our office in October 2016 as a 61 years old man suffering from terminal cancer.

He had been undergoing intensive chemotherapy treatment, was very weak and had both care and mobility needs. In his case we had to act very fast. We did a quick benefit check and started to apply for relevant social support for a person in his situation.

It took a lot of effort, but we were able to claim benefits under the old rules and avoided the new Universal Credit, which stipulates a minimum six weeks wait for the first payment, if awarded.

Within a short while we succeeded in attaining Personal Independent Payment for Mr. A., Employment and Support Allowance and Council Tax support. Moreover, we put him in touch with a specialist centre that regularly provides him with therapy, social and leisure activities.

Eastern European Citizens in the UK often don’t know their rights and are less likely to access the NHS and out of work benefits they are entitled to.