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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Adviser: Retaining worker status – what is involuntary unemployment?

Our adviser recently helped a client who had left her previous employment due to constructive dismissal and whose claim for housing benefit was rejected as the decision maker felt that she was not “involuntarily unemployed”.

Camila’s story

Camila is from Spain and had been living in Northern Ireland for 2 years when she approached Housing Rights Service for help.  She’d been working for the last 18 months as a manager in a café, but handed in her notice in July 2014 after her working conditions became intolerable.   

Camila felt that she had been singled out for poor treatment by her superiors.  She was regularly working 60 hour weeks and was often scheduled to work for up to 21 days in a row before being allowed a day off.  She explained that she was the only manager being paid minimum wage and that the other managers had all been hired on more favourable terms.  

Camila wasn’t able to cope with the stress and pressure of her employment any longer and started looking for alternative employment.  She handed in her notice in July. She was able to get a few hours a week working as a tutor at a local school, but her wage wasn’t enough to support her.  Camila applied for, and was gratned, Jobseekers Allowance but her application for housing benefit was rejected.  The decision stated that she had not retained her worker status as the decision maker felt that she was no involuntarily unemployed.

Retaining worker status

In the past 18 months there have been significant changes to the tests applied to EU nationals who need help with rental payments because they are out of work.  Applicants must show that they retain their worker status in order to receive housing benefit.  To retain this status, applicants must be able to show that they

  • have a history of genuine and effective employment in the UK
  • are registered as a jobseeker, are actively seeking work and have a genuine prospect of being engaged, and
  • that they are “involuntarily unemployed”.

The decision maker was satisfied that the client met the other hurdles, but felt that Camila was not “involuntarily unemployed” as she had voluntarily left employment.

Legal definition of “voluntary”

We decided to look further into what is actually meant by the term “involuntarily unemployed”.  By legal definition “voluntarily” refers to an action being taken “without valuable consideration”.

We felt it was clear that it was not an easy decision for client to leave her work. She had advised us that she had endured terrible working conditions for 18 months and eventually felt that she had no other option but to tender her resignation.

Although proving that this was tantamount to constructive dismissal was difficult, we reminded NIHE that the burden of proof lay with the Executive in this matter, and that the Executive should only withhold Housing Benefit if they could satisfy themselves that she had not given valuable consideration to leaving her job.

On considering our revision submissions, a decision maker at NIHE overturned the original decision and the client was awarded Housing Benefit which was backdated to cover the earlier period of the claim

Tips on asking for a revision of a housing benefit decision

In March, we’ll be running a training session on advanced housing benefit issues. This course will focus on the skills and knowledge that advisers need in order to successfully overturn housing benefit decisions.  The course will run in Belfast and in Derry/Londonderry

Tagged In

Benefits, Money Matters, Practical tips, Adviser

This article was written on 25 February 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.