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Pandemic leaves thousands without an NI number

22 October 2020

An investigation by Money Box for the BBC has discovered that thousands of people that are legally entitled to work in the UK have been unable to get a National Insurance number.

Ciara Conalty is a hairdresser who moved to the UK from Ireland in June. The BBC reports that she has been unable to get a National Insurance number because the government has stopped issuing them due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government says that you don't need an NI number to work. However, Ciara has told the BBC that she has struggled to prove to her employer that she could work without an NI number and was placed on a higher emergency tax code. She has also had trouble opening a bank account without an NI number.

What's more, Ciara may not be able to start an apprenticeship course as the college won't enrol her without an NI number. Ciara said: "I … was told that because of coronavirus, I can't have an interview to prove who I am, so I can't get one. I was told I could get an NI number after coronavirus but when will that be?"

The government says you can currently only get an NI number if you have entered the UK on a visa. BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme has found that British Passport holders arriving here for the first time are also unable to apply.

The government says it was necessary to suspend parts of the National Insurance number application process during the pandemic so it could redeploy staff to process benefit claims.

It says that if an applicant does not require a visa to work in the UK, such as a British passport holder or EU citizen, the right to work and ID check is carried out face-to-face and that those meetings are not possible because of coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said: "Individuals can start work without a National Insurance number if they have the right to work in the UK and we are working on a solution to reopen the service soon."

However, the3million – a group representing the rights of EU citizens in the UK - says not every employer knows that people have the right to work without an NI number.

Luke Piper, head of policy at the3million, told the BBC: "Thousands of people who have arrived in the UK since March are having trouble getting jobs, opening bank accounts and paying tax."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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