Kosmy* arrived in London in the summer of last year. He had worked as a teacher in Poland and teaching in the UK was, for him, a stepping stone to his long term goal of teaching in New Zealand. He hoped that working in the UK would give him experience of working to a UK curriculum.
For his first nine days in the UK, Kosmy lived with a friend. He soon found work through an agency:
'I did anything just to pay the bills.'
After a month working in a warehouse and after successfully navigating a cumbersome paperwork process, Kosmy secured a teaching job, again through an agency.
At this point our conversation takes a less positive turn. The teaching agency told Kosmy that he could only register with them if he agreed to work through an umbrella company:
'I was promised that working through an umbrella company would increase my pay. In fact it has done the exact opposite.'
The agency had 'talked up' the benefits of working through an umbrella company as enabling workers to claim back travel and subsistence costs. But now Kosmy is having to pay his employer's National Insurance contributions as well as his own. 'I've done some research and I'm sure what they are doing is illegal', he said.
'Who have you turned to for advice?', I asked. Kosmy replied that he had joined a Facebook group. He had never heard of Citizens Advice before, or law centres. He isn't a member of a trade union.
I did a quick internet search after we'd spoken and read this helpful briefing paper from the teachers' union, NASUWT: http://www.nasuwt.org.uk/consum/groups/public/@journalist/documents/nas_download/nasuwt_012264.pdf. An extract from the briefing reads:
'The NASUWT is aware of the concerns raised by its supply teacher members about being required by recruitment agencies to join umbrella companies for payment of their salaries in order to ‘save tax’ on remuneration. NASUWT members have also expressed their dismay at being asked to pay both Employer’s and Employee’s National Insurance (NI) contributions in addition to the umbrella companies’ margin.'