Law Centre (NI) welcomes end of Worker Registration Scheme
Many migrant workers who have lost employment or whose family circumstances have changed have not been able to rely on a UK social security safety net in recent years. As a result, the Law Centre has dealt with a significant number of cases of destitution.
This May day, we welcome the end to the particular restrictions placed on migrant workers from the eastern European countries of the Czech republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The restrictions are connected to the Workers Registration Scheme. This scheme, which affects nationals from the A8 countries, will officially close on 30 April 2011.
The impact of the scheme
In 2007, the Law Centre challenged the lawfulness of the scheme under European law in a test case before the House of Lords1 for a Polish woman who had been working in Northern Ireland. We lost the case overall but were pleased to have persuaded two of the country's most senior judges of the legal flaws in the scheme.
Clients affected by the restrictions include workers who had short interruptions to their employment, workers who had not realised that a change of job required registration and women who have had to give up work for a period following domestic abuse and relationship breakdown.
The Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) has been in place from 2004 and required a national of any A8 state working in the UK to register their employment for an uninterrupted period of twelve months. The scheme has been in operation for seven years, the longest permitted period under European law.
The closure of the WRS brings the rights and entitlements of A8 nationals in line with nationals from other EEA states (excluding Romania and Bulgaria).
The most significant change is that an A8 national who comes to look for work from 1 May will have a right to reside as a work seeker. While A8 nationals will still have to satisfy the habitual residence test and show that they meet the general conditions of entitlement, they will be able to claim Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit, which provides a safety net and prevents destitution. They will be entitled to claim Jobseeker's Allowance for six months provided they can show that they are continuing to seek work and have a genuine chance of being engaged.
If a worker started work before the scheme was abolished, loses work and wishes to claim benefit, then it should not be assumed that a lack of registration before 1 May is a problem. For example, someone starting a new job in April would not have needed to register as there was a 30 day period in which to register work.
How we can help
Law Centre (NI) is happy to advise A8 nationals who experience difficulties with claiming benefits from 1 May.
We continue to lobby for effective support for other migrant workers from Romania, Bulgaria and from outside the European Union who still face restricted access to social security benefits.
1. Case citation: Zalewska (AP) (Appellant) v Department for Social Development (Respondents) (Northern Ireland)  UKHL 67