The impact of COVID 19 on migrants | CPAG

The impact of COVID 19 on migrants

Post date: 
21 July 2020
Written by: 

Kirsty McKechnie

Welfare rights adviser, Early Warning System

The Early Warning System was set up by CPAG in Scotland to collect and analyse case evidence about how social security changes are affecting the wellbeing of children, their families and the communities that support them. We have been closely monitoring emerging issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. This report concentrates on the impact of COVID on migrants living in Scotland and highlights social security policy and administration has left some migrants with little or no income during the pandemic.

The case studies are collated from cases dealt with through our second tier advice service and submissions from frontline workers, including welfare rights advisors, housing officers and support workers.


EU nationals with no entitlement to means tested benefits

To be entitled to means-tested benefits, such as universal credit (UC), an EU national must have a right to reside. It is very difficult for EU nationals to meet the right to reside test unless they meet one of the following requirements:

  • They are currently working
  • They have worked in the UK for 5 years
  • They recently lost their job and have registered at the Jobcentre, or
  • They have been granted settled status.


In the period 18th March to 30th June the Early Warning System received ten examples of EU nationals in Scotland who could not establish a right to reside and were therefore not entitled to any means-tested benefits during the pandemic.

An EU national applied for settled status having lived in the UK for 10 years but processing applications is delayed due to COVID 19. He applied for UC but he does not have a right to reside other than as a jobseeker. He started work at the beginning of March but lost his job a week later due to COVID 19. #649 (30/04/20)


An EU national couple had been working in the UK for three years but stopped working in December following a bereavement. They have been living off their savings but cannot now return to work as planned due to COVID 19. If they have made sufficient national insurance contributions they may be able to claim contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance, but it is unlikely that they would be able to establish a right to reside that would entitle them to UC to cover their housing costs. #664 (01/05/20)



An EU national and his partner have been in the UK for less than five years and have a patchy work history. He was in his current job for less than a month when he had to stop working as he has an underlying health condition. The couple are currently relying on foodbanks and have been refused a Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grant. #326 (07/04/20)



An EU national moved to the UK in March with the offer of a job which was then rescinded due to COVID 19. She does not have a right to reside that entitles her to means-tested benefits #692 (05/05/20)


An EU national with three children moved to Scotland in January and is not working. Her partner remained in Europe and isn't working either. Client has been relying on foodbanks and the Scottish Welfare Fund as she is not entitled to claim any benefits. Normally she would have been advised to find work so that she could establish a right to reside as a worker, but that is not possible at the moment. #309 (6/4/20)



Worker status

EU nationals can retain worker status if they are involuntarily unemployed and register as a jobseeker with the Jobcentre by claiming JSA or UC. To retain worker status beyond six months, EU nationals must supply evidence that they have a genuine prospect of work. Opportunities to work were severely limited during lockdown and unemployment is expected to increase in future months, making it difficult for involuntarily unemployed EU nationals to retain worker status and therefore entitlement to means-tested benefits.


An EU national is awaiting an appeal on a right to reside decision. His previous work is not being treated as genuine and effective so he does not have retained worker status. Adviser asked for the hearing to be brought forward as the client has exhausted the Scottish Welfare Fund and is struggling to keep his phone, gas, and electricity topped up. Prior to lockdown the client was getting employability support to help to look for delivery jobs but he is in the shielding category so has been unable to look for work during COVID. #1299 (16/6/20)


A lone parent EU national's UC has just been stopped as she failed the genuine prospect of work test. When she attended a residence interview with DWP in January she was mistakenly advised that she would not be required to look for work as the parent of a one year old. It would not be possible for her to look for work just now due to COVID 19 #900 (19/5/20)


An EU national's six month retained worked status is due to end in May. He has not been able to find new work due to COVID 19. #703 (05/05/20)


People with no recourse to public funds (NRTPF)

Many people from outside the EU, who are resident in the UK, will have a condition attached to their visa that stipulates that they have no recourse to public funds. This limits the support they can access, including access to benefits. If they have been working and made sufficient national insurance contributions, they may be able to claim contribution-based JSA or contributory employment and support allowance (ESA), but they will not be able to claim the majority of means-tested benefits. This means that some people who have been unable to work or travel have been unable to access social security during COVID.

A client who was working in Scotland wants to return home to North America as she is terminally ill, but cannot due to COVID travel restrictions. She is not entitled to claim any benefits, including the Scottish Welfare Fund. Her flat mate is trying to support her financially but cannot afford to do this long term. #303 (06/4/20)


A client with NRTPF is shielding. She currently runs her own business as a sole trader. However for the majority of the last tax year she was a PAYE employee of her own company so will likely not be entitled to support through the Self- Employed Income Support Scheme. She may be entitled to contributory benefits if she has made sufficient national insurance contributions and has also been advised to investigate Scottish Government support for small businesses. She will not be entitled to UC. #462 (7/4/20)


A client and his wife are full time students with visas that state they have NRTPF. Their course has been suspended. There are not able to access any support through social security. #166 (26/3/20)


A lone parent with NRTPF had been working at the university she was studying at but currently has no income. #551 (23/4/20)



Couples with mixed eligibility

If someone is eligible to claim UC, but their partner is not (e.g. an EU national without a right to reside or someone with NRTPF) the eligible partner can still claim but will be paid at the single person rate and their partner’s income will still be included when calculating the award. So whilst couples and families have received assistance through social security during COVID it has been at a considerably reduced rate.


An EU national couple are not married and have 3 children, the youngest is a baby. He was working in a low paid job but has been laid off. He has settled status, gets UC at a single person rate but is also subject to the benefit cap and the two child limit. #1385 (22/6/20)


A client with children lost his job due to COVID. His wife has NRTPF and receives a veteran’s benefit. He can claim UC as a single person but the veterans benefit will be deducted from his award pound for pound. #73 (19/3/20)


A self-employed client’s wife has NRTPF. He applying to the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. If he applies for UC in the meantime it will be calculated using the single person's standard allowance. #666 (1/5/20)



DWP administration

The DWP has processed an unprecedented number of claims for UC during COVID and there has been very little evidence coming through the EWS of difficulty with claims, ID verification or delays - except in relation to EU nationals and other migrants. The EWS normally receives a number of cases in relation to processing UC applications, so the absence of these cases is notable and suggests that the UC system has responded well, but also shows some evidence that non UK nationals are still coming up against administrative obstacles.


An EU national and his wife were receiving child benefit and housing benefit. Now that his income has dropped they need to claim UC, but when they tried, they were told that they can't claim until the wife has a national insurance number (NINO). She has already applied. DWP's own process states that DWP staff should refer the claimant via an internal process to allow a NINO to be allocated prior to the decision on entitlement, thus ensuring a prompt allocation of the NINO so payment of UC need not be delayed. #849 15/05/20


A couple with two children have leave to remain. They were living solely on the husband's self-employed income until this dried up due to COVID 19. He has a NINO and she applied for one recently. They claimed UC at the beginning of April but were told after they do not receive the first payment as expected, that their claim could not be processed as she does not have a NINO. It is not necessary for a NINO to have been allocated but for sufficient evidence and information to be submitted and information to have been provided for one to be allocated, which the couple have done. #1103 (03/06/20)


A person from abroad became a UK citizen in January and has been living in the UK for one month. After work he had lined up fell through due to COVID 19 he tried to claim UC but was told that he would have to wait a further 60 days before he could pass the habitual residence test. There isn't a three month time limit for UC in the way there is for JSA and the decisions should be based on the facts of the case. #503 (21/4/20)


An EU national couple with limited English just had their first baby. They tried to claim UC and child benefit but were told they would need to provide a birth certificate and three month’s bank statements which they cannot do because the registry offices are currently closed due to COVID 19 and they don't have access to a printer to print off bank statements. (Birth certificates are not required at the moment for child benefit claims) #921 (20/5/20)


A client was granted refugee status in April, received his last asylum support payment, then made a claim for UC on the phone with help from an interpreter. Two weeks later DWP had still not verified his ID so he was unable to claim an advance and had no money. Adviser was told nothing could be done to speed up the process, but as someone who had recently been granted refugee status the client's ID would have been recently verified by the Home Office. #1126 (04/06/20)


A refugee tried to make a UC claim and was told would get a call back with an interpreter. Adviser called back after 9 days to no avail. #1125 (04/06/20)



People stranded abroad

A basic requirement of UC is presence in the UK when the claim is made. A DWP official verbally advised CPAG in Scotland that easements in response to COVID included allowing people to claim UC if they were stranded abroad so long as they had travelled before 17th March – the date on which the UK Government advised against travel abroad. We received 3 cases of EU nationals having their claims refused because they are abroad.

A Lithuanian couple with a young child went home for a holiday at the beginning of March but were unable to return to Scotland due to COVID 19. They tried to apply for UC but their claim as refused because they are not in the UK. #361 (9/4/20)


A Polish national who has been living and working in the UK for seven years went home for a short visit at the beginning of March but got stuck there after Poland closed their borders. He applied for UC online but received a decision on 28th April stating that he is not entitled because he is abroad. He does not qualify for assistance in Poland because he is paying tax in the UK. #619 (28/4/20)


An EU national couple claimed UC during COVID while husband couldn't work. He has been in Scotland throughout. His wife got stuck in Europe at the beginning of March after her return flight was cancelled. Two weeks into the UC claim DWP phoned and said the claim had to be closed because the client is not in the UK. They have both struggled financially ever since. Whilst DWP said they would accept UC applications from abroad, there has been no change in the regulations making it difficult to challenge. He could claim UC as a single person in the meantime. #1465 (28/6/20)


Contact us

If you have any queries about these findings, or the Early Warning System please contact:

Kirsty McKechnie


Telephone: 01416117091

You can submit anonymous case studies online