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EEA Nationals - 'Retained worker' and 'Retained self-employed status' definition

The notes on this page are for EEA nationals and their family members who were resident in the UK on 31 December 2020.

Who are retained workers?

EEA nationals who have had to stop work involuntarily can retain their status as a 'worker' or 'self employed' person.

If a person is recognised as a retained worker, or given retained self-employed status, they will be able to claim benefits.

A worker, or self-employed person, can retain their status if they are:

  • Temporarily unable to work due to illness or accident (eligibility for benefits continues whilst the person recovers).
  • Involuntarily unemployed and registered as a job seeker. In this case worker status is only retained for:
    • Up to 6 months if the employment was less than a year. The person needs to demonstrate that they have a genuine chance of gaining employment (e.g. by evidencing qualifications, previous work references, job adverts and applications etc).
    • Longer than 6 months if the employment was longer than a year, as long as they remain registered as a jobseeker
  • In vocational training (e.g. learning a trade, obtaining a professional qualification, ehancing or expanding existing skills) as long as:
    • If the person is involuntarily unemployed, they are not restricted in their choice of vocational training.
    • If the person is voluntarily unemployed, any vocational training must be in a field that is related to the previous employment.
  • On a maternity break for a reasonable period, which is genrally considered to be about 12 months. While an employee has the right to keep her job during a period of statutory maternity leave, some people (including agency workers and self-employed people whose business is mothballed) will not have any current effective and genuine work whilst on a maternity break, but they can still keep their worker/self-employed status for a reasonable period.

When to claim benefits relying on a retained status

When a person becomes involuntarily unemployed, the law says they must register as a jobseeker in order to retain their worker/self-employed status. A short delay can be overlooked (the courts have allowed periods of around six weeks in some cases) but the longer the delay, the more compelling must be the reasons for it.

An example of a good reason for delay would be if the person hopes or expects to find a job quickly and only registers as a jobseeker after a few weeks of unsuccessfully trying to find another job while living off their final salary or savings in the meantime.

A person with retained worker/self-employed status satisfies the right to reside test for all benefits and is not required to pass the factual habitual residence test.