EU nationals working in the UK – your rights

Photo: Sarah Leigh Photography / Getty. 

Despite Brexit, the legal status of EU, EEA (European Economic Area) or Swiss nationals coming to work in the UK has not changed, and cannot change whilst the UK still remains in the EU.

Whatever happens after Britain leaves the EU, the government says it will “properly protect” the legal status of people from the EU, EEA and Switzerland who have come to work and make their home here. We don’t know exactly what that means yet. But one thing we do know for sure is that nothing can change before Britain actually leaves the EU.

So until that time, here’s a succinct recap of the rights of EU, EEA and Swiss nationals.

Working rights

Unless you are genuinely self-employed, you have the right while you are working in the UK to:

Unfortunately, some bad employers try to get around most of these legal responsibilities to their workers by labelling them 'self-employed' when they are not. If you suspect you may be a worker or an employee but are being falsely treated as self-employed (go here for further explanation), you should seek immediate advice from your union rep. If you are not a member of a union, find one that represents workers in your industry or sector on our Union Finder and join today.

Questionable modes of ‘self-employment’ are also increasing in what’s called the ‘gig economy’ where companies such as Uber and Deliveroo operate. See what’s wrong with the gig economy here.

Working legally

Every worker in the UK needs a National Insurance (NI) number in order to work legally. To get a NI number, you need to make an appointment for an 'evidence of identity' interview at your nearest Job Centre Plus. More on this here.

You will also have to pay income tax. The amount of tax you have to pay depends on a number of different factors. Every worker in the UK has a tax code, which an employer uses to work out how much tax they should pay on your behalf. If you are starting your first job in the UK, you will probably start to pay 'emergency tax' until you have been given a tax code.

Some employers may offer you a ‘cash in hand’ job without paying NI or tax. In case you didn't know this already, this is against the law. If they are breaking this law, it is very likely they will break other employment laws as well, especially those that protect workers. It may be harder for you to enforce any of your legal rights if you are not working legally. You should avoid this type of job.

Note that your employer has no right to hold on to your passport or identity documents, but they must ask to see original identity documents proving that you have the legal right to work in the UK before you are allowed to start work. They will take a photocopy of your identity documents. 

Don't stand for agency exploitation

Many workers coming to the UK find work through employment agencies. Many are very good. Some are not. For example, an employment agency should not attempt to charge you a fee simply for finding you work, or for putting you on their books. They also cannot insist that you buy other products or services such as CV writing, training, or personal protective equipment (PPE) as a condition of using the work-finding services of the agency. Employment agencies are meant to make their money from employers who need workers, not the other way round, and if yours is engaging in any of these underhand schemes, find a new one. 

For more information on agencies, see our Agency Workers section.

Also on workSMART

Detailed information on Your Rights at Work.

More on the rights of migrant workers.