Date of publication: 28 May, 2021
No Further Action Decision – Summary
The IMA has the authority to conduct inquiries as set out in paragraph 25 of Schedule 2 of the EUWA 2020.
Issues may be identified by the IMA through its own monitoring and intelligence, which indicate that an own initiative inquiry may be appropriate. Own initiative inquiries enable the IMA to begin a systemic or general inquiry to look at the cause of an issue in cases where it may not have received a specific complaint about a particular matter.
When considering whether an own initiative inquiry is appropriate, the IMA will have regard to the importance of addressing general or systemic failings in the implementation or application of Part II of the Withdrawal Agreement Act 2020 and Part II of the EEA EFTA Separation Agreement which confer a relevant right on EU, EEA & EFTA citizens resident in the UK and Gibraltar through the co-ordination of social security systems, employment and self-employment and equal treatment .
When considering whether there are reasonable grounds to conduct an own initiative inquiry, the IMA will review all information available and consider whether it could and should take further action by way of informal enquiries or pre-inquiry investigation.
The IMA has conducted informal enquiries in relation to a perceived delay and the withdrawal of face to face national insurance identity checking services by the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) in March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The issue was referred to in the3million report to the IMA published in February 2021. The IMA also received a complaint relevant to the issue under consideration.
Pre inquiry investigations in the form of informal enquiries were undertaken to ascertain whether the change in the process by the DWP in the issue of National Insurance Numbers (NINos) was negatively impacting on the ability of EU, EEA and EFTA citizens to access social security systems and secure employment.
Summary of Actions and Evidence
Having carefully considered the issues identified the IMA sought additional information from third-party organisations as well as the DWP relating to the concerns shared. The responses received confirmed there have been, and continue to be, challenges with the issuing of national insurance numbers to EU, EEA & EFTA citizens (specifically those who do not have the benefit of settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme) as a consequence of withdrawal of face to face services in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The information available to the IMA has shown limited individual examples where individuals had potentially been placed at an economic disadvantage because they could not access a national insurance number. However, it is evident from information available in the public domain and on gov.uk that a national insurance number is not required to take up employment or access welfare benefit support.
The IMA ‘s informal enquiries identified that the DWP has during this period sought to mitigate the impact on those EU, EEA & EFTA citizens requiring a national insurance by using other mechanisms available to them to provide a national insurance number when possible.
Summary of Decision
It is evident that there may be EU, EEA & EFTA citizens in the UK who may potentially have been unable to obtain a national insurance number and who cannot be helped by the solutions put in place by DWP.
On the basis of the information available, the IMA considers that the DWP’s response to the pandemic was not unreasonable in the circumstances. Further, the mechanisms put in place and proactive communication in the public domain designed to promote the fact that a national insurance is not required to work or seek social security benefits offer some mitigation.
On the basis of the information available at this point in time, the IMA has determined that currently it does not have reasonable grounds to believe that an inquiry into this issue may identify general or systemic failings in the implementation or application of Part II of the WA. For the avoidance of doubt, this outcome does not preclude the IMA from acting further should matters of concern in relation to NINos arise again in the future.
The IMA encourages citizens with relevant rights to report any issues experienced in enjoyment of them. In addition, the IMA will continue to monitor this issue generally.