6: Welfare Benefits and Debt

In this chapter, issues around welfare benefits and debt are explored. This is the most common topic within the GYROS database, particularly for in-work benefits to ‘top up’ low-paid work for clients facing significant in-work poverty. Bureaucratic bordering is identified as a key issue, as migrant workers must prove they have been ‘habitually resident’ and ‘exercising a treaty right’ in order to claim welfare benefits such as Universal Credit. The authors also explore issues of debt and the interrelationship between work precarity and debt. Zero-hours contracts combined with low pay mean individuals are often living pay packet to pay packet. They have little to fall back on when things go wrong. They also face a poverty premium in terms of payment demands, costs of court summons and late payment fees, which aggravate their already precarious financial situation.

A. Introduction

One of the most common reasons for clients approaching GYROS is to get advice on welfare benefits – just over 25 per cent of all enquiries were related to in-work benefits designed to ‘top up’ low-paid work. In this chapter, we look at how EU migrant workers in Great Yarmouth interact with the benefits system. EU law, and now the Withdrawal Agreement, gives migrant workers the right to claim benefits on the same terms as UK nationals. However, this chapter shows that many struggle to navigate the benefits system, not just because of language and digital literacy issues but also because of the strict entitlement criteria. Specifically, access to welfare benefits shows the complex bureaucratic bordering1 experienced by migrant communities who may have to prove that they have been ‘habitually resident’ and have a ‘right to reside’, in order to claim certain means-tested welfare benefits, such as Universal Credit. We saw this with Darius in Chapter 1, as he had a ‘further evidence interview’ at the Job Centre, where he had to provide his tenancy agreement and proof of rent payments. He also had his Habitual Residence Test interview, where he had to produce documents showing residence in the UK (payslips, a P45, employment contracts, GP letters, a National Insurance number letter). Given the volume of documentation needed to prove entitlement, claims may be frustrated where, as shown in earlier chapters, workers have not received payslips, P45s or tenancy agreements.

Debt, the other issue we examine in this chapter, is also a common problem for GYROS’ clients. Zero-hours contracts combined with low pay mean individuals are often living pay packet to pay packet, and there is often no money for unexpected bills. Further, if the individual had paid an intermediary to help them to find employment and accommodation in Great Yarmouth – either before departure or after arrival in the UK – that initial debt must be paid off (even when, as in the case of Darius, the employment never transpired).

Issues around benefits and debt are in fact interrelated. Delays in accessing benefits, particularly when individuals face additional eligibility checks, mean debts accrue quickly. This problem was exacerbated in 2015 when Great Yarmouth was selected as a pilot area for the introduction of Universal Credit, a process which turned out to be far from smooth, leading to significant delays in payments. Further, the digital application process, which foreshadowed the later digital-only nature of the EUSS application (Chapter 3), has increased the difficulties for GYROS’ clients, many of whom struggle with technology. They are also affected by the ‘poverty premium’2 due to payment demands, cost of court summons and late payment fees, which aggravate their already precarious financial situation.

In this chapter, we focus less on the experiences of the residents in the House than we do in other chapters, as most were in full time employment, did not have dependent children and were not claiming any welfare benefits (although Adomas briefly received Universal Credit when he was in-between jobs – a common occurrence related to seasonal work in the area). The residents also do not seem to have had issues with debt, apart from Camilla’s experience with her previous landlord and her Council Tax bill (Chapter 5). So the examples used in this chapter are drawn from the GYROS dataset. We begin by looking at problems EU migrant workers experienced when attempting to access benefits (Section B) and then we consider issues around debt (Section C). Having described the problems these migrants face, we then consider how GYROS helps its clients with these issues. As in other chapters, we see pragmatism in the advisers’ approach and a desire to help clients sort out their problems so as to avoid further problems developing and the accrual of additional debt.

B. Welfare benefits

1. Introduction

Welfare benefits in the UK are a mix of contributory, means-tested and circumstance-specific benefits (for example, Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independent Payments for those with disabilities or managed conditions3). For EU nationals, access to benefits in the UK has increasingly been restricted. By 2014, the growing catalogue of restrictions included:

the introduction of a three-month prior residence rule for Jobseeker’s Allowance, which has been extended to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit; the scrapping of Housing Benefit for all EU jobseekers; the withdrawing of job centre language interpretation for EU jobseekers; the introduction of a six-month cut-off for Jobseeker’s Allowance, now reduced to a three-month cut-off, coupled with a ‘compelling evidence of genuine prospects of work’ test; and the introduction of a ‘minimum earnings threshold’ to have work classified as ‘work’.4

Further, in 2013, the Coalition government introduced Universal Credit, replacing Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.5 This seismic change, introduced to ‘simplify and streamline’6 the welfare benefit process, reduce error and fraud, increase employment incentives (to ‘make work pay’7) and reduce poverty,8 affected all claimants. However, claimants with literacy issues, including many of GYROS’ clients, were particularly affected. New claimants are required to create an online Universal Credit account to submit a claim. Creating an account requires an email address and mobile phone number, a point noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, who said: ‘The British welfare state is gradually disappearing behind a webpage and an algorithm, with significant implications for those living in poverty.’9 We consider the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit on those living in Great Yarmouth later in the chapter. First, we look at the requirements for EU nationals claiming benefits.

2. EU eligibility and systems

2.1 The requirements

Under EU law, EU migrant workers can claim social advantages under Regulation 492/11, and EU citizens can claim social assistance after the first three months of residence under the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2004/38. The interplay between these provisions is complex. In essence, workers, including work-seekers, enjoy equal treatment in respect of social advantages under Article 7(2) of Regulation 492/11 from the first day of their arrival in the host state (albeit host states can impose proportionate, justified residence requirements for the migrant to establish a real link with the labour market of the host state,10 which may delay the worker from receiving the social advantage until a genuine link with the host territory, via residence, has been realized11). In Even,12 the court defined ‘social advantages’ broadly to include all benefits13 which,

whether or not linked to a contract of employment, are generally granted to national workers primarily because of their objective status as workers or by virtue of the mere fact of their residence on the national territory and the extension of which to workers who are nationals of other Member States therefore seems suitable to facilitate their mobility within the [Union].

Non-economically active citizens enjoy equal treatment under Article 24(1) CRD, including, in principle, access to social assistance. In Brey,14 the court said that the phrase ‘social assistance’ meant

all assistance introduced by the public authorities, whether at national, regional or local level, that can be claimed by an individual who does not have resources sufficient to meet his own basic needs and the needs of his family and who, by reason of that fact, may become a burden on the public finances of the host Member State during his period of residence which could have consequences for the overall level of assistance which may be granted by that State.

This definition suggests that social assistance benefits are those intended to protect against destitution, such as Universal Credit15 or Housing Benefit.

However, non-economically active citizens (and workers) can be denied social assistance for the first three months under Article 24(2) CRD.16 For those resident in another member state beyond three months of residence and up to five years of residence, the court in Dano17 said, and it was confirmed in CG,18 that the right of residence is subject to the conditions set out in Article 7(1)(b) CRD, which requires economically inactive citizens to have sufficient resources for themselves and the members of their family, because otherwise there was a risk of ‘allowing economically inactive Union citizens to use the host Member State’s welfare system to fund their means of subsistence’.19

Post Brexit, settled status gives entitlement to benefits on the same basis as British nationals. Their status means that they have the right to reside for benefit purposes, although they still need to show they are habitually resident. However, applicants with pre-settled status cannot rely solely on their status.20 They must also demonstrate an independent qualifying right to reside for benefit purposes. This means they must have a qualifying right under what were the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016, so they must show that they are a worker, self-employed or have retained worker/self-employed status, or are family member of an EEA citizen in one of those categories.21

2.2 Current legal challenges to eligibility

This qualified right of access applying to pre-settled status holders has been tested in recent UK cases, some of which are still ongoing at the time of writing. In Fratila,22 the claimants, Romanian nationals with pre-settled status, applied for Universal Credit in 2019. Their applications were refused on the basis that to access Universal Credit in the UK, they needed another qualifying right and could not rely solely on their pre-settled status to meet the requirements of the ‘right to reside’ test.23 They argued that this contravened the prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of nationality under Article 18 TFEU, which still applied because the facts of the case arose during the transition period (ie before 31 December 2020). The High Court dismissed the respondent’s claim, but the Court of Appeal24 allowed their appeal, quashing the 2019 Regulations25 and finding them directly discriminatory. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which delayed the case pending the outcome of the Court of Justice of the European Union in CG,26 a case referred from the Northern Ireland Social Security Tribunal regarding another EU national with pre-settled status who had also applied for, and been refused, Universal Credit.

CG was a single mother of two who had been the victim of domestic abuse. She lived in a women’s refuge after she left her abusive partner. She had never been economically active in the UK, having moved to the country in 2018 to join the father of her children. The Court of Justice of the European Union said she could not rely on the principle of non-discrimination (Article 18) to claim a right to equal treatment in respect of entitlement to Universal Credit.27 This was because Article 18 TFEU applied independently only to situations governed by EU law with respect to which the TFEU did not lay down specific rules on non-discrimination; Article 24 CRD was the relevant, specific provision, and this applied instead. As we saw earlier, ‘a Member State has the possibility, pursuant to Article 7 [CRD], of refusing to grant social benefits to economically inactive Union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement and who do not have sufficient resources to claim a right of residence under that directive’.28 Following this judgment, the Supreme Court ruled in Fratila that the respondents also could not rely on Article 18 TFEU.29 This means that ‘until – and if – those 2.5 million holders of pre-settled status can upgrade to settled status, access to welfare benefits and housing support will remain largely contingent on demonstrating sufficient economic activity to meet the right to reside criteria’.30

However, in CG, the Court of Justice found that before refusing social assistance benefits, the relevant authority had to satisfy itself that the refusal would not expose the claimant to an actual and current risk of violation of their rights under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (before the end of the transition period). This would include rights such as respect for human dignity (Article 1), integrity (Article 3), respect for private and family life (Article 7), non-discrimination (Article 21) and primary consideration of the best interests of the child (Article 24). Charter rights had not been considered by the Supreme Court in Fratila, because they had not been raised in earlier proceedings.

The Charter was, however, at issue in AT.31 AT was a Romanian national with pre-settled status but no other qualifying right to reside for the purposes of claiming Universal Credit. She was a single mother who had been the victim of domestic abuse. She first moved to the UK in 2016; her child was born in 2018. AT said she had endured domestic abuse from V, including while she was pregnant. In 2020, she was granted pre-settled status. In January 2021, the police were called to an incident at their home. V was arrested and AT and her child were placed in temporary accommodation and then in a women’s refuge. A summary in the judgment outlines ‘Her resources comprised £200 in a bank account, into which her Child Benefit had been paid, a £25 Tesco voucher and £15 from a fellow resident. Because her Child Benefit payments (£84.20 every four weeks) were not enough to cover her basic needs and those of her child, she applied for Universal Credit’.32

The First Tier Tribunal had said that without Universal Credit, AT and her child could not live in ‘dignified conditions’, therefore breaching their Charter rights. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions appealed on the basis that CG referred to those with pre-settled status before the end of the transition period (December 2020) and that the Charter applied only to member states when they were implementing EU law and so did not apply to the UK after the transition period. The Upper Tribunal said that AT could rely on the Charter after the end of the transition period and the Court of Appeal agreed.33 It also held an individual assessment is required in all cases where a person (with rights under the Withdrawal Agreement) requiring universal credit would otherwise be refused on the grounds they do not have the right to reside. This case will have a significant impact on those who are more vulnerable – such as victims of domestic abuse – who previously have been described as ‘no recourse to public funds (NRPF)’, and therefore not entitled to any housing or social welfare support (chapters 3 and 5). Permission to appeal the case to the Supreme Court has been refused by the Court of Appeal. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions did seek further permission to appeal from the Supreme Court in February 2024, which was ultimately also refused.34

Having looked at the complex legal landscape facing EU benefit claimants, we turn now to consider some of the issues seen in the GYROS dataset. In the next section, we focus on Universal Credit and the effect of the pilot on the Town, and the continued problems GYROS’ clients have with Universal Credit, especially over its digital accessibility (Section 4) and overpayments (Section 5). We also look at how GYROS responds to the problems presented by its clients (Section 6).

3. Universal Credit and Great Yarmouth

The Universal Credit system was piloted in various areas, including Great Yarmouth, before being rolled out nationally. The scheme was marred with teething problems, including significant delays to payments. Councillors from all parties on Great Yarmouth Borough Council wrote to the then Secretary of State for Department for Work and Pensions, Damien Green, about their ‘deep concerns’ about the rollout of Universal Credit in the area,35 not least because, as we saw in Chapter 2, Great Yarmouth had suffered considerably from austerity. They noted that foodbank use had increased by over 200 per cent36 as claimants waited, sometimes up to three months, for their first payment, and that Great Yarmouth Borough Council was owed £82,000 from 400 tenants who were in rent arrears due to Universal Credit payment delays. The councillors called for an ‘urgent investigation’ into the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit, saying it was causing ‘unnecessary stress and anxiety for claimants’ and asking ‘why Yarmouth [had been] chosen as a pilot’.37 The government also continued with its focus on a digital scheme, despite the evaluation of the Universal Credit pilot in May 2013 showing: ‘Not all customer groups have access to the internet either with the right tools/equipment or internet access – some local authorities … report around 50–60%.’38 As we have seen, many HMOs – including the House of this research – do not have internet access.

The GYROS dataset contains case notes dating back to the period of the introduction of Universal Credit. These show the serious problems faced by clients in terms of delayed payments. For example, Claudia had been the victim of a hit-and-run car accident, leaving her with a broken leg. She sought help to apply for Universal Credit when she could not get statutory sick pay, since her zero-hours contracts meant she did not meet the SSP threshold. She initially applied for contribution-based Employment Support Allowance, but this was refused:

May 2016. Client received a letter from ESA [Employment Support Allowance] stating that she does not have enough contributions to claim ESA contribution based and that she needs to claim ESA income related; because we are on UC [Universal Credit] already, I told client that we need to claim UC and explained to her that it will take up to 6 weeks for the first payment and that her CTC [Child Tax Credit] will stop as well. Client said that it will be impossible to survive without any benefit; just CHB [Child Benefit] is not enough, and her HB [Housing Benefit] is suspended. I told client that I will send an email to HB. Client will come Friday to bring me a letter from school as evidence that her daughter is attending school.39

Claudia’s case was not an isolated example. In June 2016, Rita40 approached GYROS as “she wanted to claim JSA [Jobseeker’s Allowance] contribution”, but the adviser explained ‘that there is no more JSA because the postcode is now on UC [Universal Credit], and we should do UC instead’. As an EU national, she had to satisfy the Habitual Residence Test. Her appointment was booked for September, and the GYROS worker accompanied her to this appointment. In October the GYROS worker phoned the Department for Work and Pensions twice to check on the progress of the Habitual Residence Test assessment. Throughout this period, the client received no money. At the end of October, Rita was told that she did not pass the Habitual Residence Test; the GYROS worker advised her that she could request mandatory reconsideration of this decision and she did so in November, again with GYROS’ help. In December, GYROS helped her to “contact UC [Universal Credit] to book an appoint for her husband to show his bank account details, which he already provides on his journal”. The Universal Credit journal is an online record of all activities undertaken while claiming that benefit. Rita was struggling because the Job Centre needed to see her husband for him to show his bank details in person, but with his long antisocial work hours, this proved difficult. According to the case note: ‘Client explained to them that he is working full time and doing overtime due to Christmas season, but the adviser said that anyway her husband needs to do it.’

This is the last enquiry for this client under the ‘welfare benefits’ label; a further enquiry on the client’s record under ‘debt’ states that ‘the client began receiving UC [Universal Credit] in February 2017’, suggesting the mandatory reconsideration was successful. This means she received her first payment eight months after making the initial claim. Dores, another GYROS client, had similar experiences, including delays over establishing the Habitual Residence Test and payment delays due to system problems:

18/11/2016: Client said that she had not been paid yet. I accessed client’s UC [Universal Credit] details and there was a note in her journal dated 16/11/2016 stating that they were aware that payments were missing due to a fault in the system but that they would try to issue a payment on that day. I called UC enquiry line and talked to agent. I explained the situation and agent said that the payments for 07 Sept[ember] to Oct[ober] and October to Nov[ember] were missing as well as August payment for the housing and child elements. Agent said that she would email the team responsible for the payment and speak with her manager so an urgent payment can be issued today. I explained this to client and advised client to pay attention to her bank account and UC account.

The delays help to explain why clients like Claudia, Rita and Dores get themselves into debt.

Irrespective of these initial problems, Universal Credit is now a mainstay of the welfare landscape in the UK. For GYROS, Universal Credit enquiries were still the largest enquiry under the category of ‘welfare benefit’ in 2022 – particularly in relation to (in order) digital support, new applications and updating details. This shows that more than eight years after its introduction, clients still need help from GYROS to interact with the fully online system. This is relevant too for the EUSS, considered in Chapter 3, which has had a similar digital-first/digital-only rollout. For those with no digital skills, they will continue to need support. This has an impact on GYROS’ strategic planning for future services (considered further in Chapter 8), especially in the context of funding this ongoing support.

4. Digital accessibility and English language skills

GYROS’ clients need help to navigate the welfare benefits system due to both the online system(s) and digital barriers and English language barriers. As noted earlier, interpretation services were withdrawn for EU jobseekers;41 the Coalition government maintained: ‘Jobseekers whose lack of English is preventing them from getting a job, will be required to attend English language training or face losing their benefits as part of the government’s radical shake-up of the welfare system.’42 However, this assessment did not capture the multilingual world of work in and around Great Yarmouth (discussed in Chapter 4) and the poor English language skills of GYROS’ client group, or how structural factors such as long working hours and working mainly with other non-English speakers can leave limited time for workers to improve their English language skills.43

GYROS’ clients, therefore, need a lot of help navigating the online system, including basic help to set up email addresses so that they can make claims and help to create digital CVs:

Client has been in the UK since 2013, he was working at [local poultry factory] but this last month they did not call him back to work. Client wanted to claim JSA [Jobseeker’s Allowance]; did JSA claim online, explained to client about the CV, that he needs to sign in every other week and needs to show that he is actively looking for a job. I also explained that he will need a UJM [Universal Jobmatch] account.44 Client had no idea how to do it [as] he does not have an email account. I told client that I will create one for him.45

GYROS helped one client to maintain a digital Universal Credit journal for over three years,46 and another brought her own laptop from home and asked GYROS staff to teach her how to log in and maintain her own digital journal.47

5. Benefit overpayments

Another common problem identified in the database is that of welfare benefit overpayments. Sometimes it is the system itself that causes the issue: the dataset records examples of clients being informed explicitly when they make an application that overpayment will occur and clawback is likely. Further, with the introduction of Universal Credit ‘advance payments’,48 those loans needed to be paid back, causing clients yet more difficulty. This has affected GYROS’ clients. Clients (often unknowingly) are paid benefits they are not entitled to; these then need to be repaid (see Section C). These overpayments can be due to clients’ English language difficulties or simply because they do not understand how the UK system works. This issue is not unique to GYROS’ clients.49 Forbess and James, in their ethnographic study of welfare benefit claimants in both a Citizens Advice and a law centre setting, also found ‘poor language skills and lack of basic system literacy’.50 They note that sometimes accessing welfare benefits can leave clients with problems ‘as serious or, more serious’51 than when they first accessed help. This can also be seen through the GYROS case notes.

In the case note that follows, overpayment of Housing Benefit was causing confusion.

Client was working for [redacted] which went in liquidation. The client has an overpayment of HB [Housing Benefit] and cannot afford to pay. The client was claiming HB for one property and moved to another property and did not change the address and kept receiving HB. Client thought that because the amount was the same there was not a reason to inform HB team. I explained to client that she had to report it, as she was not living there anymore so she was not entitled to HB for that property even if she was entitled to HB to the new property [for which she had not applied], she had to do a new form reporting the change of address. I told client that I cannot argue with council as they are writing and asking for the money back. … Because she is not working at the moment, we cannot make an offer to pay, I told client that I will speak with DIAL [a local debt advice charity] to see if we can do a DRO [debt relief order]. Client was happy with that.52

Some clients do not understand the system:

Client has a TC [tax credit] overpayment, and he thinks that it was not his fault as TC was the one doing the calculations and they should not pay him if he was not entitled to [it]. I explained to client that TC based their calculations with the information provided in the claim form and for the year, and when there’s changes like stop work, that entitlement changes as well and it is up to the client to inform TC about the changes to avoid overpayment.53

Sometimes clients can, with help, negotiate a long-term payment plan to pay back what was overpaid:

2017 – Client has an overpayment for tax year 2009–2010 of £2,668.15. Client wanted to call and arrange a payment plan and establish if he has any other overpayments. Called to TC [tax credit] adviser [who] confirmed that only overpayment is for 2009–2010, as he has paid for 2010–2011. However, there could be an overpayment for 2016–2017. But it’s not possible to confirm until the renewal is made. Arranged a payment plan of £40 a month. April 2017 will be [the] first payment and … September 2022 will be last payment of £68.15. Payment plan is for 66 months, which will be taken on 26th of each month.54

However, sometimes sorting out a payment plan informally is not possible. The case study in Box 6.1 concerns a client, Johann, who was initially unaware the debt was even accruing.

Box 6.1: Johann’s story

Johann first approached GYROS in early 2016:

26/01/16: Client received a letter from GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] regarding a £5,356 overpayment of HB/CT [Housing Benefit/Council Tax]. Client said that the figures are wrong and that he was not receiving HB/CT and that he informed them of all changes of circumstances. I asked client to bring me bank statements and payslips for the period of the overpayment so I can look into it. Client will bring it as soon as possible.55

The next case note outlines how the adviser worked with the client to understand his budget and negotiate a repayment plan with the council. Although not mentioned directly, the follow-up action suggests the client accepted he had received the overpayment, as outlined in the January note.

16/02/16: Client brought the information that I needed to do the personal budget and to contact GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] regarding his debt. I told client that now I need to write a letter to send to GYBC with the personal budget and evidence to see if they accept the £30 offer per month.56

By April, Great Yarmouth Borough Council had served the client with a notice demanding final payment.

06/04/16 – Client came with a sundry debt final notice regarding HB [Housing Benefit] overpayment (£5,356.56) and a letter stating that GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] contacted client previously and their intention to request direct payments from client’s employer. I told client that I did contact [debt collection agency] and that I was dealing with it through [name redacted] and that she told me that it was okay for me to send the information she requested like the financial statement and bank statements via email, which I did on the 26/02/16. I called [name redacted] and according to her they never received the email.

The GYROS adviser sent another email with the information. The council official said she would look into it to decide if she could accept the offer of £30 per month. Meanwhile, the GYROS adviser

told client that Council Tax will accept the £30 p/m [per month] till Jun[e] 2016 when client finishes paying part of his loan and then the same amount should be paid to CT [Council Tax] and then again in Dec[ember] 2016 when he finishes other loan, the same amount should pass to CT. … I explained to client that [for] his CT for this year he needs to pay £44.72 as soon as possible, as it was to be paid on the 4/4/16 and then every week £27 for 43 weeks …. Client also has £17.79 to pay for his CT 2013 and … he needs to pay that now to avoid further action which will increase the debt significantly. Client will pay it today.57

These notes show the difficulty of managing the repayments of a debt spanning an unknown number of years and the attempts to agree payment terms. However, the client returned later that month, this time with a direct earnings attachment. It appears from the case note that the council applied to the Magistrates Court for a liability order for non-payment.58 A liability order gives the council greater powers of debt recovery if needed. The costs of this recovery action are added to Johann’s debts. Great Yarmouth Borough Council’s response (below) speaks to the role of Lipsky’s ‘street-level bureaucrats’59 and the power individual local administrators can hold in the operation of state law at a street level.

27/04/16 Client called and told me that he received a copy of Direct Attachment of Earnings Order that GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] sent to his employer. I told client that I would call GYBC and will contact him as soon as possible. … But anyway she said that they would not accept client’s offer as he tends to not keep the arrangements and due to the high amount of the overpayment, they have to recover it through his wages and client does not need to worry about it. I called client back and told him about it and client was okay with that. I remind him that he needs to keep his payments for the current CT [Council Tax] and the £30 every month for the debt with previous CT. Client was fine with that.60

There is no appeal tribunal to contest an order to reclaim benefit overpayments, so ‘one must negotiate directly with HMRC’,61 a difficult task for those with poor language skills and system knowledge. This is not just a matter for EU migrant communities. In their 2022 report Hardship by Design,62 StepChange (the UK’s leading debt advice charity) said that the government can reclaim up to ‘25 per cent of the Universal Credit standard allowance (deducted automatically), or 15 per cent for claimants with earned income less than £60 per month’.63 In 2022, around a million people – 42 per cent of all claimants – have deductions taken from their Universal Credit payments to deal with overpayments.64 Given that Universal Credit overpayment is considered a ‘priority debt’ (see Section C), its repayment is prioritized over other debts a person might have. Usually, the repayments are automatically deducted from payments or earnings, as seen in Johann’s case (Box 6.1).

In 2020, The Trussell Trust found that 47 per cent of people visiting foodbanks listed the Department for Work and Pensions as their main creditor.65 This speaks also to Mia Gray’s work on the role of the state as both debt creator and debt collector:66 ‘the UK’s welfare system, the state safety net, has become implicated in exacerbating precarity and creating debt, particularly in low-income communities’.67 She and others have also criticized the automation of the benefit systems, when debt recovery ‘decisions are increasingly occurring without human oversight’.68

6. Interim conclusions

We have seen that ‘the UK welfare system is convoluted and complex’.69 For EU nationals in the UK, the complexity is exacerbated by lack of language and digital skills as well as having to show eligibility. Clients experience what Susan Bibler Coutin calls ‘hyper documentation’70 when having to prove their legal status and entitlements. The following case note illustrates the multiple hurdles facing one EU national’s claim for Child Benefit:

Client received a letter regarding her reconsideration, the letter stated that CHB [Child Benefit] maintained their decision that client is not entitled to CHB as she does not have the right to reside. I explained to client that at the time she made the claim she was not exercising her treaty rights. I explained to client that in order to be eligible to receive benefits in the UK we need to be a qualified person and for that, we need to be a worker, jobseeker, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student and when client made the CHB [claim] she was not working or exercising her treaty rights.71

This case note also tells us something about how GYROS advisers work: explaining the rules but also identifying with the clients (‘we need to be a qualified person and for that, we need to be …’). In the final part of this section, we pull together what we have seen and learned from the case notes as to how GYROS works.

7. GYROS’ response

What Sections 3–6 have shown is how GYROS staff interpret and navigate complex UK and EU law around eligibility of EU nationals to welfare benefits. GYROS advisers are not legally trained, but as we noted for housing (Chapter 5), welfare benefits is an area where the ‘law’ is more explicit in the advice the advisers give. The rules and entitlements attached to welfare benefits are ‘everyday’ issues for the advisers, with welfare benefits being the most common category of enquiries. GYROS staff learn by doing, increasing their knowledge incrementally with each case (Chapter 8). Advisers must have a working knowledge of rights to be able to give advice. However, as sections 4 and 5 of this chapter show, GYROS’ role goes beyond mere advising. They explain (and translate) the rules (relating to, for example, the R2R test/ habitual residency or how Housing Benefit works when the client changes address), help to assemble the paperwork (for example, bank statements), assess what is practical (for example, in relation to a repayment plan and its terms) and negotiate repayment plans, set up individuals on online systems (for example, by providing an email account), follow up on correspondence with, for example, the council, and work with other more specialist agencies, such as DIAL. This is pragmatic law in operation.

C. Debt

1. Introduction

On the GYROS database, 10 per cent of cases accessed help for issues related to debt and money advice. However, this does not present the whole picture. For example, for those making a housing-related enquiry (7 per cent), the majority of enquiries concern Council Tax and, more specifically, issues around Council Tax arrears; the second most common enquiry in this category concerns rent arrears. Those claiming help with welfare benefits (25 per cent) are also routinely experiencing debt issues (as reflected in the case notes in Section B), as they are navigating either getting access to income or ‘topping up’ their low income. In this way, the GYROS database shows evidence of the situation recognized in the literature as ‘problem clustering’72 – that is, they are experiencing multiple issues at once and, with a domino-like effect, one problem leads to another. The case notes from the GYROS database show that debt is often not the ‘presenting’ issue, but it underpins (more usual) presenting issues, such as housing or welfare benefits. Sometimes clients are also simply unaware debt has been accrued until they receive a letter from, say, the Council Tax officer. This is especially the case if they are unfamiliar with UK systems and do not realize they have to pay Council Tax or other bills, such as for water.

In the next sections, we consider some of the causes of debt and the consequences of debt, before looking in more detail at what the GYROS case notes tell us about how they help their clients.

2. Why are clients in debt?

2.1 Causes of debt

The causes of debt are many, but for GYROS’ clients it has much to do with low pay, unpredictable working hours for those on zero-hours contracts (as described in Chapter 4) and unexpected bills. It may also be due to ill health, which causes the problem or aggravates existing problems (Chapter 7). Take the case of Irina (a case we return to in Chapter 8):

Client came in with both of her children to ask me to help her understand letters that she has received. There was a full bag with unopened envelopes from various utility companies, debt collectors, Council, GP, DVLA, [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] TV licence. I asked client why she has ignored the letters previously, she said that she doesn’t understand and was wrongly advised [to] ignore letters as she already pays the rent and does not need to pay any utilities. Client also mentioned that [it’s] due [to] low mood and lack of motivation following bereavement of her husband 2 years ago.73

In the case of Mia, it was her employer’s difficulties that caused her problems:

10/12/18- walk-in. Client’s work was suspended for 1 month due to her employer’s personal matters. Client’s landlord insisted that client makes UC [Universal Credit] claim. I advised client that in future she should not take landlord’s advice re benefits. I helped client to contact UC as she has failed HRT [Habitual Residence Test]. I asked for mandatory reconsideration on basis that client was temporarily unemployed for 1 month and is back in employment. … Client had 5 weeks off work in total and was back in work on 1/12/18. Client has provided all the requested evidence to the Job Centre.74

This case provides a good example of how a short period (here, five weeks) without work can put a client into rent arrears (and other arrears), which can be hard to overcome. Delays with Universal Credit (which continued into the next year) exacerbated the situation for this client, who still had no news on her mandatory reconsideration more than three months after she applied. The notes said:

18/3/19 walk-in. Client hasn’t had any update on her UC [Universal Credit] mand[atory] rec[onsideration] following the call on 18/2/19. I called UC and was advised that DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] are experiencing a large backlog of mand[atory] rec[onsideration;] however client’s rec[onsideration] will be escalated one more time and her account noted accordingly.

The notes also said: ‘I explained that client is a single parent of two young children and also she is carer for her elderly mother, her rent is in arrears since November last year and she has received eviction threats from her landlord.’ There are no other updates on this client’s case.

Clients may also be in debt because of a failure to understand how systems work in the UK. The following case note covers Magdalena’s case, based on her not knowing she needed to ‘top up’ her rent payments:

22/05/18 walk-in – client received a letter from her housing association regarding a £1,456.59 rent arrears. According to client her rent is being covered by HB [Housing Benefit]. I told client that she has a top-up that she needs to do, and client said that she did not know about it. I told client that according to the letter she has a £19.56 top-up p[er] week and now they increased £5 on top of the £19.56, which leaves £24.56 p/w [per week] top-up.75

For some, English language difficulties have caused serious problems. Magda ended up in court on the accusation of not having a TV licence, even though she did have one and had been paying for it (although some payments had been returned); her English was not clear enough to explain this to the person on her doorstep:

24/03/2020 Client called to ask [for] help as she is worried about her TV Licence. She had a few payments that have been returned and for 2 months she couldn’t pay. … Someone went to her house about TV licence and when they asked her, she said she didn’t have TV Licence instead of explaining the situation due to her English [language]. Client will be having to go to court. I told the client to bring her bank statement [as] proof that she did try to make the payments …. Client requested a translator to go to court with her so this should be provided; however I told the client to take her daughter with her just in case.76

And sometimes debt is due to the unscrupulous behaviour of private landlords. We saw in Chapter 4 how one of the residents of the House, Camilla, got into financial trouble for nonpayment of Council Tax at a previous tenancy, having been assured by the landlord that he was paying it – her case is not an isolated one:

Client’s husband came and said that he wanted an update regarding the water situation. Apparently, client is paying his landlord by cash for water bill charges and has no receipts of these payments. According to client, his family and the other flats pay the landlord for water charges, but they have received a bill from water services with the same amount that they have paid to their landlord.77

Once GYROS’ clients get into debt, there is often a ‘poverty premium’ to pay, which only serves to make the debt worse.

2.2 Cost of debt: the poverty premium

The dataset shows examples of what has been referred to as the ‘poverty premium’78 – in other words, it is expensive to be poor. GYROS clients experience this poverty premium in the form of payment demands, costs for court summons and late payment fees. This issue affects many low-income families in deprived areas: research has shown ‘one quarter of British households (24 per cent) are estimated to experience at least one type of poverty premium’,79 including ‘pay as you go’ electricity meters, high interest rates on credit cards and loans, and any non-standard billing methods.80 Take Jan’s case, for example; she was already in arrears on his energy bill:

23/07/18 walk-in Client came to us with a letter from E.ON [utility company] asking to pay £1,370.93 until 31 of July. Called E.ON and they said that the client had an agreement with them but only made one payment in March. To keep the agreement, he has to pay £150.00 a month plus what he spends every month. E.ON said the best option for him is to have a prepaid meter and [pay] the debt from the new meter. Client doesn’t know where the meters are in the house. Advised client to ask the landlord where the meters are and give the company the reading.81

These debts have long-term consequences. The following case note shows how addressing a debt can in fact compound it:

Client brought a form from County Court regarding a claim made by [redacted] Solicitors on behalf of BT PLC due to failure in keeping payment arrangement. Debt with BT PLC is £524.59 + £60 court fee +£70 solicitor/professional fee. Total amount £672.59 to pay. I called solicitors. We filled [in] the form over the phone with client’s information and also with the income and expenditure info[rmation] that was given by client. Solicitor explained that as client has a minus income of £600, she could contact an independent debt adviser …. Client has 2 options. Option 1 – pay the full [amount] in 6 months, £112 per month, and no county court admission will be added to her credit file, which will affect her credit for 6 years. Option 2 – choose to pay an affordable amount for her but will have her credit affected for the next 6 years. Client said that she cannot afford to pay in 6 months, so she offered to pay £20 per month on the 19th.82

So, the additional costs (court fees and solicitors’ fees) were added onto an original debt – the debt the client could not pay in the first instance – equating to an almost 25 per cent increase on the original debt. The client then renegotiated a cash repayment plan, even though her expenditure exceeded her income by £600 per month.

Others face penalties in addition to the original fine:

29/3/16 Client has received CT [Council Tax] Cancellation Notice of £166. Client told me that she only gets to work 1 day per week and her partner about 3 days per week, therefore they are behind with their CT payments. Client is unable to clear full amount of £166. I contacted council to find out if client could agree to repayment plan. Client will incur £65 Summons fine; this is unavoidable unless client make full payment today. Client can make an offer once Summons letter received, which total owed would be £231. Client agreed to pay £20 every week from 1/4/16 and must contact council when Summons letter received for this offer to be accepted, client aware, will come back to GYROS.83

In this example, the £65 summons fee is 40 per cent of the cost of the original debt, avoidable only if the client could have cleared the debt on the same day. She was unable to do so due to the limited hours she and her husband worked.

2.3 COVID-19 and debt issues

The COVID-19 lockdowns were another reason why migrant workers got into debt. As Chapter 4 shows, the majority of migrant workers in Great Yarmouth work in food processing – largely in poultry factories, as there are three factories operating in rural areas surrounding the Town.84 COVID-19 outbreaks in these factories briefly focused attention on the fact that migrants make up a significant number of staff on the factory floor. Take, for example, Banham Poultry. Operating in Norfolk for over 50 years, it supplies chicken products to supermarkets and accounts for 7 per cent of chicken processing in the UK. It employs about 1,100 people, many of them European migrants.85 In early September 2020, there was a COVID-19 outbreak in the factory, with more than 120 people testing positive, almost all working on the cutting room floor. At the time, all workers and their households had to isolate for 14 days if they had not tested positive or had not been tested, and for 10 days if they had a positive test result; their households, including children, had to isolate for 14 days.86

Many workers did not receive the £94.25 per week statutory sick pay because they earned less than the £118 per week needed for eligibility; others who were forced to isolate but were not sick, such as family members, did not receive statutory sick pay at all. And some who were entitled to statutory sick pay still wanted to work: ‘workers told the BBC that in the early stages of the [Banham Poultry] outbreak, employees had turned up to work despite presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, because “they were afraid to take sick leave, because sick pay is so low.”’87 A government grant – a Test and Trace Support Payment of £500 – was introduced on 28 September 202088 to ensure that those on low incomes were able to self-isolate without worrying about their finances. However, for those isolating before 28 September (including the 120 workers and their extended family members at Banham Poultry), no such payment existed, and the new payments were not backdated. Further, for many, the bureaucracy of support put it either out of reach or, at a minimum, difficult to access. The availability of the Norfolk Assistance Scheme,89 with its more flexible eligibility requirements, in fact proved more effective in meeting workers’ basic needs (for food and heating).

More generally, working in low-paid positions, often without formal contracts, meant that many migrant workers were not reached by the support measures put in place by the government, either because they earned too little or because of their insecure, temporary and part-time work.90 They inevitably got into debt. A debt adviser in Norfolk said that many debts accrued, unchecked, during the pandemic, because agencies like Great Yarmouth Borough Council were not going out and proactively chasing debt repayments as they might have been doing otherwise. He said “because nobody chased these debts, people just ignored them a bit”.91 He said his service had been much busier since all lockdown restrictions had been lifted and “chasing” and enforcement of payments had restarted.

Finally, it is not just the loss of income caused by the pandemic that has created problems; lockdown and self-isolation also aggravated other problems such as mental health issues. Take Ana92 (who we met in Chapter 4). Six months after starting work in a factory, Ana had her first ‘breakdown’. She described accessing mental health services as: “Hard. Very Hard”. Her GP prescribed medication, which she took briefly before finding a new job. Shortly afterwards, she and her family caught COVID-19. Ana found the isolation overwhelming. Her husband was unable to start a new job, because he had tested positive, and this caused money issues. “It was horrible. We were all so unwell. It was so isolating. We had no one. Everything fell apart.” Ana’s story is a reminder of problem clustering, with mental health issues being exacerbated by testing positive for COVID-19, leading to an inability to secure income, leading in turn to debt. This shows the impact debt and financial issues (as well as other compounding factors) can have on mental health.93

3. How GYROS responds to the issues

The previous sections have shown how GYROS’ clients get into debt and how trying to get themselves out of debt may exacerbate their problems. They also showed, indirectly, how GYROS helped some of their clients with, for example, contacting the relevant claimant (such as the council) to see if a repayment plan could be arranged and supporting them with practical advice and translation services. In this section, we look in more detail at the different ways GYROS help their clients. As we have seen in other chapters, the advisers’ approach is pragmatic and focused on resolving problems.

3.1 Advisory work

For GYROS’ clients, debt tends to be experienced in clusters. As has been shown, sometimes the main creditor to which clients owe money is the state (for example, due to benefit overpayments). However, some owe money to utility companies and private landlords. As we saw in Irina’s case, clients sometimes arrive at a GYROS drop-in with a carrier bag of letters they have been unable to read because of language difficulties or because they were unable to face up to the issue. GYROS advisers then go through each letter, sorting them by urgency. GYROS is accredited to give debt advice by the Financial Conduct Authority, the regulator for financial services in the UK. However, GYROS advisers also refer clients to specialist debt advisers, such as DIAL,94 a Great Yarmouth debt advice charity. They usually accompany the client to meetings with DIAL to provide language support.

Debts are separated into ‘priority’ and ‘non-priority’ categories.

‘Priority debts are those that must be repaid or the claimant will face unacceptable negative consequences, such as eviction for nonpayment of rent arrears. Non-priority debts are those such as unsecured credit (loans and credit cards), where statutory protections mean that the consequences for the individual in the event of nonpayment will not be as severe as those for priority debts.’95

In the case of Irina, the GYROS adviser said:

‘I assured her that I will help her to resolve debt issues. I also advised her to come to walk-ins when unsure about the letters, most important not to ignore. As it is Sat[urday], I was unable to contact debt collection companies, advised client to come back on Wed[nesday]. I gave client a folder and helped organize her bills.’96

Sometimes, as with benefit overpayments, GYROS’ role is to try to find a way forward, first by working out how much the client can afford to pay:

20/06/17 walk-in – the client has £2,318.42 rent arrears; the client was off sick for 6 weeks [and] she was being paid SSP [statutory sick pay] but that was not enough to cover her rent. The client started to work last week, and she wants to make a payment plan to cover the arrears. [A]lso, the client told me that she has utility bill outstanding as well. I asked the client to bring me the letters from creditors and last month’s bank statement so I can do a financial statement to see how much the client has at the end of the month to offer to pay her debts.97

GYROS may be able to talk to the relevant creditor to negotiate a repayment plan:

04/02/2019 Walk-in. The client has a bill from Anglia Water which asked him to pay £4,005 for the water he used. I’ve contacted Anglia Water on behalf of the client, and I asked them to explain … why the bill is that high, they asked the client if he has any leaking in his property. He said that he had leaking at the boiler but now it is repaired. They asked him about his financial situation, family members, how they use the water. They decided to make a discount for him and to put them under the lite tariff. They ask him to pay only £900 from £4,005. Anglian water asked him to pay £35 each month until he covers his debt of £900.98

There are also examples in the GYROS database of advisers making a debt relief order on behalf of a client.99 To apply for a debt relief order (DRO), the person’s total debts must be less than £30,000. In practice, it means that clients do not pay anything towards their debts for 12 months, and after that the debts are written off. However, a DRO has a negative impact on an individual’s credit score. For many of GYROS’ clients, a debt relief order is their only option, as this case note shows:

Multiple debts – speeding fines which cannot be included in DRO [debt relief order]. The client got a distress warrant in meantime and the court attended. Grant of time to pay for £140 has been awarded, £20 every month. After the initial assessment the client has no income and debts in the region of £10k, he is likely to be eligible for DRO.100

30/03/17 – client made an application for UC [Universal Credit] in January 2017 but till today she has no payments. [B]ecause of that client acquired some debts. [C]lient has a bank loan around £7,000, utility bills, rent arrears and CT [Council Tax]. [C]lient did not bring any creditor letters, I booked to see client next week to do a financial statement and asked her to bring bank statements and creditor letters so I can see if we can do DRO [debt relief order].101

In some instances, GYROS advisers must act quickly to help clients. In the following case note, the client kept missing the payment days, paying a day or two late, and the GYROS adviser worked with DIAL to prevent bailiffs from entering the client’s house to seize her goods:

DIAL called the enforcement agent and asked them to accept client’s offer of £100 per month. The agent refused, DIAL mentioned that without a court order they cannot actually enter her house and she is not going to let them in. The agent was particularly difficult, and DIAL ended the conversation and called the office. He managed to stop the seizure of the goods, but client (as offered by her) will pay £100 next Friday (12th August) and as much as she can after that by the end of the month. We stressed again how important it is for her to make the payments on time. If she fails, there is not much that we or DIAL can do anymore.102

Finally, the advice GYROS advisers give may not be what the client wants to hear, especially where the consequences are serious. Take Maria’s case. She claimed Income Support and Maternity Allowance. The GYROS adviser explained that

she will not be entitled to get income support as she has only been in the UK for less than 3 years. Also explained that if she signs the forms and sends them over, when her claim is refused, she will lose her right to reside in this country and lose all the benefits.

Client seemed reluctant to accept our advice because that was a Job Centre [adviser] telling her to do so. I explained it is her choice to send the declaration to Job Centre.103

3.2 Basic needs

At times, GYROS’ involvement is proactive, helping clients to set up, manage, amend and cancel their utility bills, especially when changing address, to avoid problems down the line:

Electric. Registered client and client will receive 2 separate letters, one with the payment card and the other with the bill to pay monthly and a budget plan. Next bill will be on 7th May. Client understood … Anglia Water (sewerage). Registered client. Client will receive a booklet and £15 payment will be made on 22nd of every month – 1st payment will be on 22nd April.104

More usually, the GYROS advisers react to problems which have arisen. Often it is working out a repayment plan, but it can be more immediate help – for instance, where the client needs food parcels and help with payments for gas or electricity. So in Darius’ case (Chapter 1), GYROS ensured he and his children got help from the local foodbank when they were experiencing difficulties. The Town has various foodbanks and there is provision of hot meals for those who need them throughout the week. These foodbanks are mostly church led, though The Trussell Trust also provides this service. As we have seen, foodbank usage increased 200 per cent when Universal Credit was introduced to the Town. For GYROS clients considered NRPF (see Chapter 3), directing them to foodbanks may be the only help GYROS can offer.

02/08/2016 (Walk-in) Client came to Walk-in to seek help. She was referred from another client and came with her brother with whom she is living with and who is supporting her financially and emotionally. Client came to the UK, has never worked and is pregnant. Baby is due on 08/08/2016. Client wanted to know what benefits she can apply [for] and what she can do. I explained that client is not entitled to MA [Maternity Allowance] as she never worked here but that we could help with items for the baby and that we could refer her to other organisations.105

For others, GYROS steps in with financial payments:

11/8/14 (Walk-in) Client came to me today as she has not [received] any payments from JCP (Job Centre Plus) or Council and does not know what to do. She is behind with her rent. I called Council and found out that they are waiting for bank statements. Client requested them on 7th Aug[ust] and Lloyds said that it will take 5–7 days to reach her. I talked to GYROS Manager and agreed that we can pay for her electricity for this week and her rent, she can also come to our cafe and have food whenever she needs. I [explained to] her that I will talk to her landlord and let him know that we will pay for one week, but we are working on her case, and she will be paid in near future. She was very grateful and said that from her earnings she will pay for her electricity and food.106

As we saw in Chapter 2, GYROS runs a community cafe as part of their community outreach programme. They use the cafe to help people access volunteering opportunities, learn English, gain a UK-based reference (based on their volunteer work) and share (and celebrate) their food and culture. The cafe also acts as a meeting point in a central community hub. The cafe opened in 2012 and was initially supported through National Lottery funding. Reserves from the cafe are ‘unrestricted funds’ which GYROS can use if they have a client in need of emergency funding. GYROS has also used the income from the cafe to keep the charity afloat in times when other sources of funding dropped off or came to an end. Advisers use the cafe as a meeting place too and can direct clients there when they need food during opening hours (if the foodbank or other provision is closed). GYROS lost this extra resource during the COVID-19 pandemic. The cafe was relaunched in the Time and Tide Museum in August 2023.

D. Conclusion

This chapter has outlined the issues GYROS’ clients have faced with welfare benefit claims and debt. Cumulatively, these two enquiry labels account for 35 per cent of GYROS’ work. We see a cohort of people facing great precarity due to low-paid work and zero-hours contracts, and coming up against a system which itself is causing problems: hurdles to prove eligibility, delays and errors in payments. Equally, we see issues of debt, also driven in some instances by systems (the poverty premium) and structural factors (such as low pay and zero-hours contracts), but driven too by a lack of knowledge of UK systems (such as the need to pay water bills and Council Tax, and the fact that there are different providers for gas and electricity).

As other research has shown, these are not issues unique to migrant communities. Debt is pervasive across the UK, especially in areas of high deprivation like Great Yarmouth. But as one debt adviser said, migrant communities are more likely to have issues involving “priority debts” (see Section C.3), especially those newer to the UK:

‘It takes time to learn, you know, to learn how the whole system works. Mostly this first debt will come if you [are in] some trouble, if you lose the job or something like that. And this first debt will come as priority … so you’re late with your rent, late with your Council Tax …. Only later on come[s] more sophisticated ones, like credit cards and stuff like that …. They [the migrant community] are not often seeing debts as a result of overspending or stuff like that. Usually, they get into some trouble and couldn’t pay [for] their necessities.’107

He also said that migrant communities do not come to the UK to claim benefits (and as we have demonstrated, access is qualified). Instead, he said, people come to the UK to work (Chapter 4): “It takes some creativity to just to leave your country to go to another country to find a job. You need to have … you know, you can’t be very, like, a laid-back person. You need to have some drive to do something like that.”108 However, if this work is low-paid, it will be topped up by in-work benefits,109 which are also given to low-paid UK nationals. However, often, even these payments are not enough, and people get into debt.

Finally, this chapter has shown how COVID-19 has exacerbated the already precarious situation of migrant workers. Others too110 have noted that the effect of the crisis was felt most keenly by those from lower socioeconomic groups111 and those from minority ethnic backgrounds,112 and by migrant workers113 in low-paid (‘key worker’114) positions. Those seeking help from GYROS fit into a number of these categories. And, as Ana’s case showed, for some mental health issues were aggravated by the COVID-19 lockdowns and lead to debt, and debt can also cause mental health problems. We have also seen how health issues have been caused by the work EU migrant workers undertake in the UK, such as in chicken factories (Chapter 4), and by the poor quality of their housing (Chapter 5). It is to these health issues and to EU migrant community access to healthcare in the UK that we turn next.


P. Manolova, ‘Inclusion through irregularisation? Exploring the politics and realities of internal bordering in managing post-crisis labour migration in the EU’ (2021) Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 1, 1.


For more, see ‘How much does the poverty premium cost your constituency?’ Fair by Design, available at: https://fairbydesign.com/povertypremium, accessed 10 January 2023.


C. O’Brien, Unity in Adversity: EU Citizenship, Social Justice and the Cautionary Tale of the UK (Oxford: Hart, 2017), 21–22.


C. O’Brien, ‘The pillory, the precipice, and the slippery slope: the profound effects of the UK’s legal reform programme targeting EU migrants’ (2015) 37 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 111, 111.


P. Dwyer and S. Wright, ‘Universal Credit, ubiquitous conditionality and its implications for social citizenship’ (2014) 22(1) Journal of Poverty and Social Justice 27, 27.


S. Steele, Universal Credit: A Reading List House of Commons Briefing Paper (May 2021), available at: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9211/CBP-9211.pdf, accessed 14 February 2023.


Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Welfare Reform White Paper: Universal Credit to make work pay: radical welfare reforms bring an end to complex system’ (November 2020), available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/welfare-reform-white-paper-universal-credit-to-make-work-pay-radical-welfare-reforms-bring-an-end-to-complex-system, accessed 10 January 2023.


Steele, n 6.


P. Alston, Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Note by the Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly Report A/74/493 (2019) available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G19/112/13/PDF/G1911213.pdf?OpenElement, accessed 23 November 2023, 13.


Joined Cases C-22/08 and 23/08 Vatsouras [2009] ECR I-4585, para 40.


Case C-138/02 Collins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2004] ECR I-2703.


Case 207/78 Criminal Proceedings against Even [1979] ECR 2019.


Ibid, para 22.


Case C-140/12 Pensionsversicherungsanstalt v Brey, EU:C:2013:565, para 61.


For a consideration of the classification of this benefit as a social assistance benefit, see Report by the Social Security Advisory Committee under Sections 174(1) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 and statement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in accordance with Section 174(2) of that Act (2012), para 16. However, in C-709/20 CG v Department for Communities in Northern Ireland EU:C:2021:602, para 71, it was classified as a social assistance benefit.


Case C-67/14 Alimanovic, ECLI:EU:C:2015:597.


Case C-333/13 Elisabeta Dano and Florin Dano v Jobcenter Leipzig, EU:C:2014:2358.


C-709/20 CG v Department for Communities in Northern Ireland EU:C:2021:602.


CG, para 77 and Dano paras 74, 76 and 77.


The Social Security (Income-related Benefits) (Updating and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.


This may also include other groups, such as students and Teixeira carers.


Fratila and another (AP) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 53.


The Social Security (Income-related Benefits) (Updating and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Available: The Social Security (Income-related Benefits) (Updating and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. See also The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 (Consequential, Saving, Transitional and Transitory Provisions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, available at: www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1309/contents/made, accessed 24 January 2023.


[3] Fratila v SSWP [2020] EWCA Civ 1741.




C-709/20 CG v Department for Communities in Northern Ireland EU:C:2021:602.


The Court of Justice of the European Union stated that the question of whether an EU national moving to or residing in a member state other than their own faced discrimination on grounds of nationality fell to be assessed by reference to Directive 2004/38 Article 24 and not Article 18 TFEU.


Para 78.


Fratila and another (AP) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2021] UKSC 53.


A. Welsh, ‘Permission to discriminate – EU nationals, pre-settled status and access to social assistance’ (2022) 44 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 133, 134.


Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v AT [2022] UKUT 330 (AAC), 2022 WL 17822237.


Ibid [3].


[2023] EWCA Civ 1307.


C. O’ Brien, ‘Court of Appeal decides the Secretary of State is wrong, wrong, wrong: The Charter applies to people with pre-settled status’, (16 November 2023), published by the EU Rights and Brexit Hub Blog Series, available here: https://www.eurightshub.york.ac.uk/blog/court-of-appeal-decides-the-secretary-of-state-is-wrong-wrong-wrong-the-charter-applies-to-people-with-pre-settled-status, accessed 04 December 2023. See also: CPAG (2024), https://cpag.org.uk/news/supreme-court-rules-government-must-support-eu-migrants-risk-not-being-able-meet-most-basic-needs, accessed 08 Februaury 2024.


T. Bristow, ‘“We’re being used as guinea pigs” – impact of Universal Credit welfare revolution felt hardest in Yarmouth’ Eastern Daily Press (2 December 2016), available at: www.edp24.co.uk/news/20854721.were-used-guinea-pigs---impact-universal-credit-welfare-revolution-felt-hardest-yarmouth/, accessed 10 January 2023.






Department for Work and Pensions, Local Authority Led Pilots: A Summary of Early Learning from the Pilots (July 2023), available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/225068/rrep848.pdf, accessed 10 January 2023.


Client ID 982.


Client ID 1059.


O’Brien (2015), n 4, 111.


Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Jobseekers on benefits who need help to speak English will have to take up free language training’ press release (13 September 2011), available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/jobseekers-on-benefits-who-need-help-to-speak-english-will-have-to-take-up-free-language-training, accessed 15 February 2023.


C. Barnard, S. Fraser Butlin and F. Costello, ‘The changing status of European Union nationals in the United Kingdom following Brexit: the lived experience of the European Union Settlement Scheme’ (2022) 31 Social and Legal Studies 365, 370.


For more on the Universal Jobmatch, see Department for Work and Pensions ‘Jobseekers required to use Universal Jobmatch’ Gov.uk, available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/jobseekers-required-to-use-universal-jobmatch/, accessed 9 January 2023.


Client ID 314.


Client ID 725.


Client ID 638.


For more, see Department for Work and Pensions ‘Universal Credit advances’ Gov.uk, available at: www.gov.uk/guidance/universal-credit-advances, accessed 10 January 2023.


M. Gray, ‘Debt begets debt: public and private debt in austerity Britain’ in J. Gardner, M. Gray and K. Moser (eds) Debt and Austerity: Implications of the Financial Crisis (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2020).


A. Forbess and D. James, ‘Acts of assistance: navigating the interstices of the British state with the help of non-profit legal advisers’ (2014) 58 Social Analysis 73, 78.


Ibid, 81.


Client ID 338.


Client ID 541.


Client ID 1299.


Client ID 311.




Client ID 311.


For more on liability orders, see ‘What is a liability order?’ StepChange, available at: www.stepchange.org/debt-info/liability-order.aspx, accessed 15 February 2023.


M. Lipsky, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services (New York: Russel Sage Foundation, 1980).


Client ID 311.


Forbess and James (2014) n 50, 8 (online version).


StepChange, Hardship by Design: How to End Unaffordable Debt Deductions (June 2022), available at: www.hardship-by-design-unaffordable-benefit-deductions-briefing-june-22-stepchange.pdf, accessed 15 February 2023.


Ibid, 1.


Ibid, 3.


G. Bramley, M. Treanor, F. Sosenko and M. Littlewood, State of Hunger: Building the Evidence on Poverty, Destitution, and Food Insecurity in the UK Year Two main report (The Trussel Trust, May 2021), available at: www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/05/State-of-Hunger-2021-Report-Final.pdf, accessed 23 November 2023, 25.


Gray (2020), n 49.


Ibid, 57.


Ibid, 57. See also N. Timmins, Universal Credit, Getting it to Work Better (Institute for Government, 2020), available at: www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/universal-credit-getting-it-to-work-better_1.pdf, accessed 15 February 2023.


O’Brien (2017), n 3, 21.


S. Bibler Coutin, ‘Immigration, law and resistance’ in M. Valverde, K.M. Clarke, E. Darian-Smith and P. Kotiswaran (eds) The Routledge Handbook of Law and Society (1st ed, London: Routledge, 2021), 260–261.


Client ID 938.


H. Genn, Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think about Going to Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 1999); A. Buck, N. Balmer and P. Pleasence, ‘Social exclusion and civil law: experience of civil justice problems among vulnerable groups’ (2005) 39(3) Social Policy and Administration 302; A. Buck, P. Pleasence and N. Balmer, ‘Do citizens know how to deal with legal issues? Some empirical insights’ (2008) 37 Journal of Social Policy 661; P. Pleasence, N.J. Balmer, A. Buck, A. O’Grady and H. Genn, ‘Multiple justiciable problems: common clusters and their social and demographic indicators’ (2004) 1 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 301; L. Clements Clustered Injustice and the Level Green (London: Legal Action Group, 2020), 3.


Client ID 1111.


Client ID 674.


Client ID 462.


Client ID 407.


Client ID 520.


Mapping the Poverty Premium in Britain Personal Finance Research Centre, University of Bristol (Fair By Design, 2022), available at: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/geography/research/pfrc/themes/financial-exclusion-poverty/local-poverty-premium/


Ibid, 1.


Ibid, 2.


Client ID 418.


Client ID 458.


Client ID 1319.


See Bernard Matthews website at: www.bernardmatthews.com/; the 2 Sisters Food Group website at: www.2sfg.com/; the Banham Poultry website at: www.banhampoultry.co.uk


‘Coronavirus: Banham Poultry factory Covid 19 outbreak “contained”’ BBC News (7 September 2020), available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-54056299, accessed 15 February 2023.


Informal work contracts made contacting workers for test and trace difficult and English language barriers made public health and isolation guidance messages (which were often updated) difficult to communicate.


M. Precey, ‘Coronavirus: Banham Poultry workers “turned up for work sick”’, BBC News (10 September 2020), available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-54091419, accessed 23 November 2023.


Prime Minister’s Office, ‘New package to support and enforce self-isolation’ Gov.uk (20 September 2020), available at: www.gov.uk/government/news/new-package-to-support-and-enforce-self-isolation, accessed 15 February 2023.


For more, see ‘Norfolk Assistance Scheme (NAS)’ Norfolk County Council, available at: www.norfolk.gov.uk/care-support-and-health/support-for-living-independently/money-and-benefits/norfolk-assistance-scheme, accessed 15 February 2023.


For more, see C. Barnard and F. Costello, ‘Migrant women unable to access Covid-19 support’ UK in a Changing Europe (21 April 2020), available at: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/migrant-women-unable-to-access-covid-19-support/, accessed 15 February 2023.


Interview with debt adviser (online, June 2022).


This case study was developed by GYROS for their Seldom Heard Voices report (Norfolk Community Foundation, 2023), available at: www.norfolkfoundation.com/our-work/publications/, accessed 4 October 2023.


For more, see ‘The Facts’ Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, available at: www.moneyandmentalhealth.org/money-and-mental-health-facts/, accessed 21 February 2023.


See the DIAL website at: www.dial-greatyarmouth.org.uk/, accessed 23 November 2023.


StepChange, n 62, 4.


Client ID 1111.


Client ID 1289.


Client ID 846.


For more, see The Insolvency Service, ‘How to get a debt relief order (DRO)’ Gov.uk, available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/getting-a-debt-relief-order/getting-a-debt-relief-order, accessed 15 February 2023.


Client ID 1222.


Client ID 55.


Client ID 1266.


Client ID 331.


Client ID 346.


Client ID 782.


Client ID 1134.


Interview with debt adviser (online, June 2022).


Interview with debt adviser (online, June 2022).


‘The fiscal impact of immigration in the UK’ The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford (30 March 2022), available at: https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/the-fiscal-impact-of-immigration-in-the-uk/, accessed 16 February 2023.


R. Shretta, ‘The economic impact of COVID-19’ University of Oxford (7 April 2020), available at: www.research.ox.ac.uk/article/2020-04-07-the-economic-impact-of-covid-19, accessed 15 February 2023.


F. Ryan, ‘Britain has a hidden coronavirus crisis – and it’s shaped by inequality’ The Guardian (15 April 2020), available at: www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/15/britain-coronavirus-crisis-inequality-hungry-domestic-violence, accessed 15 February 2023.


P. Campbell, ‘Coronavirus is hitting BAME communities hard on every front’ The Conversation (15 April 2020), available at: https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-is-hitting-bame-communities-hard-on-every-front-136327#:~:text=Emerging%20evidence%20suggests%20that%20black,only%2014%25%20of%20the%20population, accessed 15 February 2023.


C. Barnard and F. Costello ‘Working conditions of migrant “key workers” in the Covid-19 crisis’, UK in a Changing Europe (8 April 2020), available at: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/working-conditions-of-migrant-key-workers-in-the-covid-19-crisis/, accessed 15 February 2023.


C. Barnard and F. Costello, ‘Migrant workers and Covid-19’, UK in a Changing Europe (28 March 2020), available at: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/migrant-workers-and-covid-19/, accessed 15 February 2023.

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