Brexit: Protocol on UK-EU social security coordination

After endless negotiations between the UK and the EU, a deal was struck at the turn of 2020, avoiding a hard Brexit. Among other things, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement makes it possible to continue applying some EU social security rules to workers posted from the EU to the UK and vice versa after 1 January 2021.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded between the representatives of the United Kingdom and the European Union includes the Protocol on Social Security Coordination, which to some extent copies the rules of the coordination of social security systems under Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council. Although the agreement has not yet passed through the ordinary legislative process (the European Parliament should approve it with retrospective effect), the rules it contains should apply provisionally already from 1 January 2021.

The protocol applies not only to migrant citizens of EU member states and the UK, but also to third country nationals covered by social security in the EU or UK. However, unlike the EU regulation, the protocol does not apply to Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

The protocol maintains the ‘one country of insurance at a time’ principle and the basic rules for determining that country. Standard postings of workers between the EU and the UK up to 24 months and the concurrent performance of activities in several countries are also regulated by the protocol in a manner similar to that if the UK had remained in the EU. Applicable social security regulations will continue to be confirmed by an A1 from. The protocol also maintains a number of benefits, the principle of adding-up of insurance periods for the purpose of retirement pension, and the use of health care.

As regards necessary healthcare during short stays, according to information currently available, it will still be possible to use European health insurance cards in the UK. It will also continue to be possible to receive full healthcare outside the country of insurance based on S1 forms.

So what has changed from 1 January 2021 as regards Brexit? The protocol does not allow to apply for an extension of an A1 form to remain in the home country’s social security system for postings that exceed 24 months, or for an exception from the basic rules of the current Article 16 of the regulation. Unlike the regulation, another area that the protocol does not regulate are family benefits (including child benefits) and the possibility of exporting unemployment benefits. These areas will therefore only be governed by local legislation. It is possible to conclude a bilateral agreement with the UK to regulate this issue beyond the scope of the protocol.

Similarly to Article 12 of the regulation, the protocol allows workers posted for a period not exceeding 24 months to remain in the home country’s health and social insurance system, but at the same time allowing individual member states to derogate from this provision: in the event of an opt-out, posted workers will be subject to social security regulations in the country where they actually work. However, an unofficial survey conducted across EU member states has indicated that none of the countries have so far decided to opt out, as all of them plan to follow the protocol.

For the sake of completeness, please note that already under the previous EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement,  workers posted from/to the UK before the end of 2020 continue to be subject to the standard EU regulation (including A1 forms and their extension), until their situation changes.

Finally: to determine applicable legal regulations and any entitlement to benefits, it is crucial to assess whether the migrating worker is subject to the EU regulation, the withdrawal agreement, or the protocol.


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