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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

ADVISER: Understanding the housing rights of migrants in Northern Ireland

Advising on the rights of people who come from outside the UK or Ireland can be difficult, particularly in light of all the recent legislative changes in this area.  But, understanding these rights is crucial, given how frequently we’re now being asked to help with cases on eligibility.

Since helping EEA nationals with housing problems can be tricky, I thought it might be a good idea to look at a couple of interesting cases that we’ve had recently.  These show how important it is to have a proper understanding of the rights of foreign nationals when you’re advising on housing and welfare issues.

Applying the right rules to the right nationalities

Figuring out eligibility is a bit like finding your way through a maze.  You may take a few wrong turns along the way, but there is a path to help you figure out someone’s entitlement. It’s important that you know what the different regulations are, what they mean and which nationalities have to satisfy which tests. 

As late as last year, Jans contacted us to say that he’d been found ineligible for not complying with the Worker Authorisation Scheme.  Jans is from the Netherlands and the Worker Authorisation Scheme only applied to citizens of Bulgaria, Romania and continues to apply to Croatian citizens.    Jans’ problem was sorted out quickly and isn’t something that we’ve seen happen regularly, but it illustrates how confusing and difficult it can be to make the right decision on eligibility.

Does a former worker have a right to reside?

Claudia moved to Belfast from Berlin in 2009.  She worked for a couple of years but became ill in 2011 and had to give up her job.  Claudia’s rented home was repossessed in 2013, so, with nowhere else to live, she went to the Housing Executive for help.   In January 2014, the Housing Executive decided that Claudia wasn’t eligible for assistance, since her only right to reside in the UK was derived from her status as a jobseeker.

Claudia originally presented as homeless in December 2013 and so wasn’t affected by the changes brought about by the Immigration (European Economic Area) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2013 .  When I looked into her case, I worked out that Claudia should be treated as a “former worker” and, therefore, be eligible for assistance.  Someone who isn’t currently working can be treated as a former worker if they meet certain conditions.  Claudia was able to provide us with evidence that confirmed her former employment status and satisfied one of these conditions.

I made representations to the Housing Executive and the decision was overturned on review.  The changes to the regulations governing eligibility since January mean that Claudia probably wouldn’t have been able to be treated as a former worker if she’d left it another month before asking the Housing Executive for help.

Deriving status from a family member

A support worker from a domestic abuse agency called into our offices in June with her client Alicja.  Alicja has been living in Northern Ireland since 2006 and moved here with her husband and son. Her husband started working for a local driving company within weeks of moving to Northern Ireland and has worked for them ever since.   Alicja was really upset when I met with her.  Her marriage had broken down and she’d left the family home with her son.  She’d asked the Housing Executive for help, but had been found ineligible since she had no right to reside beyond her status as a jobseeker.

Alicja told me that she had been working in a local pizza restaurant, but was being paid in cash and there was no official record of her being in paid employment.   I thought she might be able to derive a right to reside from her husband, since there was no question that he had a right to reside as a worker, and the legislation allows a person to derive their status from a family member.

Although Alicja and her husband had separated, they were still legally married.  This meant she should still be able to derive her right to reside from her husband’s status as a worker.  Alicja supplied me with paperwork to prove her marriage and her husband’s right to reside and we were able to get the decision overturned.   Alicja’s now in temporary accommodation with her son, waiting for an offer of permanent housing.

Helping you figure out the housing rights of foreign nationals

We had hoped that the end of restrictions on A8 and A2 nationals might make things a little simpler for advisers.  Unfortunately, the number of legislative changes in the last 12 months and the complexity of these changes mean we’re still getting an awful lot of complicated queries on this issue, so other advice agencies must be getting these too. 

To help people get to grips with all these changes we’re running a training course on the Housing Rights of Migrants in September. This course will explain what rights different nationalities and categories of people have to access social housing, assistance with homelessness and housing benefit.

Tagged In

Minority Groups, Adviser
This article was written on 28 August 2014. 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.