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Frontier Workers – Becoming Unemployed [September 2008]

This is a guide explaining unemployment benefits for frontier workers.  Social welfare for frontier workers can be complex so have a look at the Employment and Social Welfare FAQs and Case Study 4 for further insight.

Under EU regulations a frontier worker can be defined as someone who lives in one member state and works in another, returning home at least once a week. Therefore people who live in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and work in Northern Ireland (NI) and vice versa are considered frontier workers

Social Welfare is a significant area of enquiry for the Borderwise project (the joint initiative run by Citizens Advice, Belfast and the Citizens Information Board, Dublin) and queries relating to unemployment benefits represent the majority of Social Welfare enquiries. With differences in both legislation and provision it can be of no surprise that much confusion exists over the issue of unemployment benefits that frontier workers are entitled to.

The rules relating to Social Security/Social Welfare for frontier workers are generally governed by EU Directives. However, while Europe seeks to co-ordinate social security, in an Irish context this can often aggravate an already confusing situation. This is especially true for frontier workers living in Northern Ireland and working in the Republic of Ireland because the amount of unemployment benefit is higher South.

In general EU legislation links contribution based benefits to the jurisdictions where Social Insurance Contributions have been made, or where the most recent contribution has been made. However, an exception to this rule relates to unemployment benefits. EU legislation states that Frontier workers who are wholly unemployed must receive contribution based payments from their country of residence rather than the last state in which they were employed. In other words, an Irish resident who is made redundant from their job in Northern Ireland must claim unemployment benefits from their country of residence, which in this case is the Republic of Ireland. Similarly a Northern resident working in the Republic Of Ireland must claim their unemployment benefits from Northern Ireland. In order to satisfy the social insurance conditions for contribution based unemployment benefits workers can combine contributions paid in any EU country in order to qualify. This is sometimes referred to as aggregation. Therefore, a frontier worker can combine contributions paid in Northern Ireland in order to qualify for Jobseeker’s benefit in the Republic of Ireland.

Workers who are intermittently unemployed for short periods of time should claim unemployment benefits from the country in which they were last employed. Therefore, if a worker resident in Northern Ireland is temporarily laid off from their job in the Republic of Ireland, but not made redundant, they should claim unemployment benefits from the South.

Simply put, if a frontier worker resident in the Republic Of Ireland losses their job in Northern Ireland, they can rely on their National Insurance Contributions paid in the North to qualify for job seeker’s benefit in the South.  They must still satisfy the general contribution conditions for jobseeker’s benefit.  If there is a partial loss of employment in Northern Ireland, the Social Security Agency would be obliged to consider entitlement to contribution based Job Seekers Allowance.