“The government told me it was still legal to work but my employer keeps asking me for it,” says Ciara Conalty, who moved to the UK from Ireland in June to work as a hairdresser.
Ciara, 22, is one of thousands of people with the right to work in the UK who have arrived here since March, but who have been unable to get a National Insurance number because the government has stopped issuing them.
The hairdresser says she struggled to prove to her employer that she could work without an NI number and was then placed on a higher emergency tax code.
She also had trouble opening a bank account, having to apply to six before HSBC finally let her open an account “so I could get paid”.
On top of this, Ciara may not be able to start an apprenticeship course as planned next month as the college won’t enrol her without an NI number.
“I applied [to HMRC] for an NI Number but was told that because of coronavirus, I can’t have an interview to prove who I am, so I can’t get one,” she says.
“I was told I could get an NI number after coronavirus but when will that be?”
BBC Radio 4’s Money Box has found that British Passport holders arriving here for the first time are also unable to apply.
Hayley, 35, is from South Africa and arrived in the UK with her mother in August. They both hold British passports through ancestry.
“We contacted the National Insurance application line and found out that because we’re British passport holders, it’s not possible for us to get one right now,” Hayley says.
“I’m looking for full-time employment, and in many of the job applications they ask you for an NI number. They won’t let you go any further until you have it.”
She says this makes it tricky to apply for jobs at a time when work is in short supply.
“To have this added stress to further my job applications has not been easy,” she says.
The government says it was necessary to suspend parts of the National Insurance number application process during the pandemic so it could redeploy staff to process benefit claims.
It says that if an applicant does not require a visa to work in the UK, such as a British passport holder or EU citizen, the right to work and ID check is carried out face-to-face and that those meetings are not possible because of coronavirus.
But EU citizens rights group The Three Million says that while the government is right to say that people still have the right to work without an NI number, not every employer knows this.
“You can’t control every single employer. Thousands of people who have arrived in the UK since March are having trouble getting jobs, opening bank accounts and paying tax,” says Luke Piper, head of policy at The Three Million.
The government says UK residents turning 16 are still being issued with NI numbers.
“Individuals can start work without a National Insurance number if they have the right to work in the UK and we are working on a solution to reopen the service soon,” a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said.
You can hear more on BBC Radio 4’s Money Box programme by listening again here.
Follow Money Box on Twitter.