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Legal work in Great Britain – a guide

The greatest boom for gainful travel to Great Britain had already passed, however this country still is a place which Poles most willingly visit for economic purposes. According to British media, our countrymen are the third, after Indians and Irishmen, national minority in that country. Our countrymen work in various places – not only at a so-called ‘sink’, but more and more often take prestigious positions in the leading British companies. The incentives to leave the country for work on ‘the Island’ are the relatively high earnings, employee-friendly regulations guaranteeing fair employment conditions as well as the access to social benefits. The following text includes vital information which can be useful for persons going to leave and take up a legal work in this country.

The first formalities

Since the Poland’s access to the European Union on 1 May 2004 the labour market in Great Britain has been opened for Poles without limitation. However, there is a number of formalities specified by the British regulations and these should be completed – also in one’s own interest. 

A duty of every person taking up a job in Great Britain is to have the National Insurance Number. This is an essential formality that one should do right after the arrival in this country. The NIN confirms the registration in the British tax system and the social security system. This is a unique, individual number, the equivalent of the Polish NIP (Numer Indentyfikacji Podatkowej). NIN enables to pay contributions on the account of the future pension and to use the vested privileges, therefore, it is in the employee’s interest to have it. You can obtain this number in the following way: one should call the employment office (the telephone number to Job Centre Plus is 0845 6000 643 available from 8 am to 8 pm) and to arrange a meeting. During the conversation one should provide: name, surname, the date of birth and the British place of residence, to which the information about the place, date and time of the meeting should be sent. The clerks will also send the list of documents which one should bring with.

Every employee in Great Britain is liable to registration within the Worker Registration Scheme − WRS. Ministry of Home Affairs (Home Office) deals with the registration of people arriving from the EU member states, who are going to take up a job in Great Britain. The application should be submitted as soon as you start a new job, within one month of starting a job – at the latest.  Employees registers by themselves. The simplest way to complete the formality is to fill in the online application form available at www.workingintheUK.gov.uk in the Schemes and Programmes tab. The paper form can be ordered at 08705210224. One should enclose with the form: employer statement confirming employment of the person submitting their notification, two passport photographs, valid passport or ID card and the payment of £ 70. If any problems with the application arise, one can count on help at 01142596262. It usually takes about 2−3 weeks to complete the formalities, however, one can start working at that time already.

Residence permit

Citizens of the European Union countries (including Poland) do not need either entry visas to Great Britain or residence visas. Work permit is not required, but only the previously mentioned Home Office Registration. Everyone working in Great Britain as well as those who have enough money to earn a living without public finance support is entitled to residence permit. Residence permit in Great Britain qualifying to apply for a full package of social benefits is granted to employees registered and employed continuously for 12 months.

General Labour Law

According to British law, workweek should not be longer than 48 hours. Working time longer than 48 hours every week means overtime and employer’s duty to pay extra remuneration. The employer should award employee’s work by overtime pay or equal time off for each hour worked, adequately to work performed overtime. The most common allowance for overtime work amounts from 50 up to 100% of the remuneration. The situation is similar about holiday work. It happens that employers pay employees additional remuneration for work on Sunday, in spite of the fact that they grant them a day off in a workweek, which the employee is entitled to. If a working day lasts over 6 hours, the employee is entitled to take 20-minute breaks for rest. Young people (18 years or less) have the right to 30-minute breaks after 4.5 working hours.

Moreover, an employee is entitled to a 4 week’s leave per year. In case of a 5 day’s workweek in a 1 year contract, an employee is entitled to 20 day’s paid holiday. People working in the agricultural industry have the right to take 22 day’s paid holiday annually. Apart from holiday leaves, there are also special leaves granted for emergency family matters. The British Labour Law of course cares for the rights related to motherhood. Regulations ensure the right to 26 weeks of the maternity leave. In the pregnancy period a female employee can have medical appointments during working hours.

Moreover, there are regulations concerning the minimum wage, i.e. the lowest amount of remuneration for a full time job. In accordance with the law, the employee cannot earn less than the minimum wage. The minimum hourly wage for 1 hour of work for an over 22 year’s old person is £ 5.35. It is £ 4.45 for people from 18 to 21 years old and £ 6.30 for 16 and 17 years old.

A watchdog for work-related health, safety and illness is the British Health and Safety Executive. In order to get help, it is possible to use the special Know Your Rights helpline, which telephone number is 0870 600 4882, and www.worksmart.org.uk website, which contains a lot of specific information on employment rights and occupational health and safety. The number of the British Health and Safety Executive helpline is 0845 345 0055. It is essential for Polish employees as it gives them the opportunity to have a conversation in Polish. People who think they do not earn the money due or need some legal advice, should turn for help using the confidential helpline 0845 6000 678 (there is also a possibility to talk in Polish). National Minimum Wage Helpline is 0845 600 0678.

Social and health insurance

Great Britain provides all residents (also non-citizens) with free and common health care financed by taxes. Working and self-employed persons for which Great Britain is a current place of work have the same right to free or partly paid medical services same as the UK citizens. Leaving for work in Great Britain, there is no need of obtain additional certificates in Poland. A certificate of employment in Great Britain will be enough. Similar to our country, after the arrival and finding a place of residence, one should register at the General Practitioner.

Employers have a duty to pay employees insurance against accidents at work. Thanks to that, in case of an accident at work, money will be paid out from the insurance policy. British employers are also obliged to pay employees statutory sick pay. It is paid on the same basis as the remuneration, however, it is not a high amount.

The employer also pays pension and disability insurance premiums on behalf of the employee (deducting these premiums from the employee’s salary). The duty to pay that kind of contributions oneself regards self-employed people. One should remember that the period of work in Great Britain includes work experience in Poland and there is here no need to additionally transfer the premiums to our IRS.

When the employee’s earnings exceed the amount of £ 80 per week, there is an extra charge, a sort of tax − National Insurance Contributions. The duty to pay this contribution lies both on the employer and the employee. In return for this charge, working people receive the access to different social benefits. Paying social security contributions in Great Britain can also be of great importance on their return to Poland – because it enables acquiring the right to social benefits in the homeland.


In Great Britain the income tax, in case of employed persons, is paid by the employer. The basic tax-free allowance is £ 4745 per year (there are different amounts for elderly people and marriages). There are three income tax thresholds: 10%, 22% and 40%. The minimum rate is paid by persons whose annual income did not exceed £ 2020. The rate of 22% is applied to people earning up to £ 31400 per year.

The basic value added tax rate in Great Britain is 17.5%. Moreover, there is a residential real estate tax (council tax) and commercial real estate tax (uniform tax).

The Polish-British double taxation agreement is in force since the beginning of 2008. Thanks to this Poles who lived and worked in Great Britain, will not have to pay the income tax to the Treasury Department on the money earned abroad on their return to the country.

Sławomir Krenczyk