Why Citizens Advice teamed up with TBIJ to investigate migrant care work

Citizens Advice is here for anyone who needs help, whether you’re in debt or have an issue with your employer, landlord or a product you’ve bought.

We help people find a way forward and, when we can’t, it’s usually due to a failure of policy, not the advice we provide.

Our joint investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows migrant care workers are unable to complain about poor treatment or leave exploitative jobs because of the visa system. It reveals one of the most serious policy failures I’ve experienced.

I came across the first cases in July 2023 while working on a project about negative budgets – when a person’s income isn’t enough to cover their essential costs.

I was looking through summaries of cases highlighted by our advisers and saw form after form stretching back to February of that year about migrant care workers who were destitute.

They hadn’t been paid, weren’t getting the hours they’d been promised, or the job they’d been hired for didn’t exist, leaving them unable to buy food or pay their rent and bills.

I flagged these cases to our director of policy and said we should make the data public. At the same time, our expert advice team, a group of legal and subject matter experts, also raised the alarm. They’d been contacted by several local Citizens Advice offices that were seeing migrant care workers who they were struggling to help.

Although advisers could help these people access crisis support like a fuel or food bank voucher, they often couldn’t fix the more fundamental issue, such as how they were being treated at work, without the risk of creating a new, worse problem.

People they were helping were scared, often with good reason, that they would lose their job and visa if they complained or tried to enforce their rights. Even reporting bad employers or fraudulent sponsors anonymously could backfire.

This didn’t stop our advisers from doing everything they could.

They’ve done outreach and helped people find new, safe jobs and sponsors. Armed with new guidance – for advisers and for anyone on the health and care worker visa – they’ve helped hundreds of migrant care workers understand their rights at work and how these rights interact with their visa conditions.

Care workers have been supported to challenge poor treatment at work, in some instances taking their case all the way to an employment tribunal.

However, in too many cases advisers’ hands have been tied – any action they take could lead to the person they’re helping losing their job and with it their right to stay and work in the UK.

Importantly, local offices have continued to gather evidence of the injustices they’re seeing. In total, they’ve submitted more than 150 evidence forms detailing the myriad of problems migrant care workers are facing: from wage theft to recruitment fraud; from being overworked to being denied work; and from discrimination to threats of being fired and having their visa withdrawn.

It’s these documents that are the basis for our investigation and our call for policymakers and regulators to make sure anyone who is treated poorly at work is able to stand up for their rights, or leave their job.

Currently migrant care workers aren’t able to do either without risking serious consequences, unless they’ve first secured a new job and visa sponsor.

Our investigation shows that there are potentially thousands of people trapped in a system that leaves them vulnerable to abuse and threats, powerless to complain, and often thousands of pounds out of pocket.

These are skilled professionals who are here to care for our loved ones and who help keep our vital services running. The injustice is clear to see and needs to be addressed now.

Reporter: Meri Åhlberg
Bureau Local editor: Gareth Davies
Deputy editors: Katie Mark and Chrissie Giles
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editors: Frankie Goodway and Emily Goddard
Illustration: Aba Marful (Morganite)

Our reporting on insecure work is supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and is part of our Bureau Local project, which has many funders. None of our funders have any influence over our editorial decisions or output.