A Migrant’s Guide to Liverpool

Introduction

Starting a new life in Liverpool can be intimidating. Many things are different to how they were at home. Most things are expensive, and some things are just plain difficult. This pamphlet provides basic advice on some of the things that you will have to sort out when you arrive here and on troubles you’re likely to get into.

Some of this advice will apply to everyone. Most will assume that although you are a migrant, you have a legal right to live and work in the UK, most likely because you are an EU citizen. If that’s not the case for you then things may be more complex and you may need more in depth information than this small pamphlet can provide.

Transport

The transport network in Liverpool is divided into zones starting from C1 in the centre, all the way to zone G2 in Chester. On trains and buses, the price depends on the zones. You can buy tickets that combine bus, rail and ferry for one day (saveaway) or for a season (trio) from Merseytravel Centres.

Buses

There are a number of bus companies in Liverpool; the biggest are Arriva and Stagecoach. There are two main categories of bus tickets – operator specific tickets and Merseytravel tickets. Merseytravel tickets such as the Solo, Saveaway and the Trio are accepted on all buses, you can buy them from Merseytravel Centres, also you can buy Saveaways and Solos from PayPoint Stores. You can buy One Day Solo tickets from the bus driver.

Trains

Transport within Liverpool by train is mainly operated by Merseyrail. There are three important lines: Northern Line, Wirral Line and City Line. You can buy a Railpass ticket if you are going to regularly use the train; week, month, term and annual tickets are available from rail stations. You can also travel within the city using long distance operators.

Travelling

If you are thinking about travelling within the UK, you can find coaches, trains and flights. Coaches are often cheaper than trains and flights. Coaches in the UK are mostly run by National Express, but you can find cheap journeys using Megabus. Normally, you will need to buy your tickets for National Express in advance and print them yourself. Ticket prices on coaches, trains and flights change through various factors, but normally the sooner you book them, the cheaper they are.

Internet & phone

You can access the internet for free in libraries. Libraries will usually require you to register, you will need a proof of address if you want to use the book lending services, but you normally won’t if you just want to access the internet. Libraries will have newspapers, magazines, English learning resources, and many will have books in different languages. They are good places for getting information on local community resources, events, education, housing, etc. If you need to print CVs away from the library you can try to do it in “Merseyside Youth Association” in Hanover Street and in the Job Centre in Williamson Square.

A mobile phone without a contract is called prepaid, pay as you go or PAYG. There are networks such as Lebara, Lycatel or Giffgaff which offer very good SIM card only deals. Small mobile phone shops in local markets are a good place to get a cheap SIM and a cheap handset but you can also order them for free on the website of the operators.

Cheap Food & Other Stuff

The cheapest supermarkets are Lidl or Aldi. Sometimes you can get food that expires that day very cheaply if you come late in the evening. Food is often cheaper in markets than in shops. The most expensive way to shop is at local independent shops. Using ‘pound’ shops is a cheap alternative, as are local markets. There are a number of cheap shops selling a wide variety of fruit & vegetables.

Skipping (taking food from bins) is a crime but prosecutions are not common. You are likely to get trouble from security guards if you get caught. Be careful as sometimes bleach is poured over food and there may be rats in the bin. FoodCycle cooks every Wednesday at St Cleopas Church (Beresford Road, Toxteth, L8 4SG). They will be serve a healthy three-course meal at 7pm each week for free.

Local charity shops sell cheap second hand clothes and goods. And there are a number of charity shops that sell second hand furniture. Avoid places offering credit at high interest which will result in you paying thousands of pounds. You can find stuff for free on Freecycle, an internet forum where people give away many different items. Also, you can find second hand goods, or even free things, on Gumtree, a website in which people sell second hand stuff.

Bank account

Opening a bank account is difficult if you have just started living in the UK. Banks will often ask you for documents to open an account and in order to get those documents you may need a bank account already. You normally need two documents: a proof of identity such as passport or national identity card, and a proof of address (like some utility bills, a letter from the Job Centre, or a UK driving license) which may be more difficult to get.

If you don’t have a proof of address, which is very likely at the beginning, you can contact some banks that offer accounts for people newly arrived to the UK, where only a passport and no proof of address is required. Those banks are Halifax and Lloyds. Normally, you have to apply first for an account online, fill out a form with your details and then go to the bank with your passport. In some cases, busy branches won’t open an account for you if you are struggling with the language, so try to do it in a less busy branch, perhaps outside of the city centre.

If you are having trouble finding a bank willing to let you open an account, you can try to opt for a “Prepaid Card”. Prepaid cards are normally offered by online banks which do not ask you for proof of address, but only a monthly fee. There are a lot of different companies, with different fees and different limitations. Some of them also offer a UK account number, so it can also be used in bank payroll systems.

Learning English

The City of Liverpool College has six main sites, and it is a college for adults for vocational subjects. They provide courses in a range of subjects including English language classes, which are affordable and sometimes free, especially if you are receiving state benefits. Liverpool City Council, libraries, churches and community centres provide free English classes too. The Liverpool School of English and Lila* sometimes offer free English courses conducted by trainee teachers.

Healthcare

NHS, the national health service, provides public health care in the UK. You can find hospitals, clinics, dentists, sexual health clinics, and other health services that are local to you by using its website. If you need emergency medical help call 999. If you need medical help fast but it’s not an emergency call 111. You can also go to the accident and emergency unit, or ‘the A&E’, which is usually in a hospital if your need is urgent.

Basic health service, such as a visit to a doctor or an emergency treatment, is free no matter what your immigration status. You may be charged for specialist appointments and hospital stays. If you have a right to stay in the UK, those are free too. Dentist or optician appointments and prescription medicines always cost money.

Your first point of contact is a doctor called a GP or a general practitioner. They usually work in a surgery, it has nothing to do with surgical procedures. You need to register with one near you and book an appointment each time you want to see a doctor. If you have an illness or injury which is not an emergency, but you can’t wait for the appointment you can go to a walk-in clinic where a nurse will see you. Be prepared to sometimes queue for several hours.

Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks and is available free in the UK. You will need a referral from your doctor, or from British Pregnancy Advisory Service. Abortion is also available through private clinics where you will have to pay £450-£750. Everyone can get condoms for free, even if they are under 16. They are available from contraception clinics, sexual health clinics, some GP surgeries and some young people’s services.

You can get the Morning After Pill free of charge from contraception clinics, Brook centres, some pharmacies, most sexual health clinics, most NHS walk-in centres and GP surgeries and some hospital accident and emergency departments. You can also buy it over the counter for about £25 in a pharmacy, including the pharmacies inside drugstores such as Boots and Superdrug.

There are many sexual health clinics in Liverpool, often next to hospitals; some of them are Abacus Central, Brook Liverpool or GUM. Armistead Centre is an excellent NHS sexual health clinic open to all people. They are particularly good for LGBT people. They have a clinic for trans people and sex workers. In case you have been sexually assaulted both recently and any time in the past, you can contact SAFE Place Merseyside by calling 0151 295 3550 at any time.

Home

Rents in Liverpool can be high and finding a decent place is difficult and takes time. It’s cheaper on outskirts. Before choosing, look at several places, ask people living in the area how much they’re paying, search on different websites and ask in estate agents. Some newsagents have boards with adverts or have adverts in their windows and you can also ask in places like launderettes, pubs, barbershops, cafés and social centres. Gumtree is the most popular website for rooms and flats

Most people can’t afford a flat so they rent a room. Landlords sometimes rent out every room in a flat as a bedroom – having a living room for communal use is an extra. If in doubt, ask if you would be sharing a room, how many people live in the flat, if it has a living room, how many people are sharing the bathroom, etc.

A cheap room in Liverpool is around £200-£250 a month including bills. Most rooms are around £350-£450 a month. Bills consist of: utilities such as gas, electricity and water; extras such as phone, internet and satellite or cable TV; the tax paid to the local government is called council tax which is usually the highest bill. Council tax varies depending on which part of Liverpool the property is in and how big it is. Check which bills are included in the price. You will normally need two months’ worth of rent upfront, one month for the rent and one month for the deposit, which you will get back when you move out.

It is possible to rent a flat or house from the local council or a housing association. These homes are cheaper and in better condition than many private properties. These types of landlords usually act within the law, have more secure tenancies, and are much more sympathetic if you have problems with paying your rent. They are also quicker than many private sector landlords to make repairs. However there is a shortage of this type of home in Liverpool, so they are hard to obtain. If you are interested in applying for affordable housing you must join the Property Pool Plus Housing Register.

Scams are very common. Do not pay money in advance for anything you haven’t seen. If the deal looks too good to be true then it probably is. People in debt often get you to pay a large deposit and rent in advance, then run off with the money. Then you are at risk of summary eviction. Unfortunately this is very difficult to fight or guard against. Try to have copies of anything you agree in writing – ideally in a formal contract.

Work

National Insurance

National Insurance is a tax deducted form your salary towards unemployment, sickness and retirement benefits. You need to get a National Insurance (NI) number to work in the UK. You can start without it but you should get one as soon as possible. You need to attend an interview and bring a proof of identity (for example a passport or driving licence). Call Jobcentre Plus to book an interview 0345 600 0643.

Pay, Minimum Wage, Taxes

Your boss should give you a written contract of employment. They don’t have to give you a full one, but they have to specify in writing basic conditions, such as pay. Always ask for a contract anyway. If you don’t get it, it may a warning sign that you will have trouble in the future. Try to get someone to check your contract for dodgy terms. It’s illegal for the boss to pay you below National Minimum Wage. You can check online the current Minimum Wage rates.

Keep pay slips and records of working hours and holidays. This will help you identify if you’re underpaid, not given enough holiday etc. Keep notes on any incidents or arguments that occur at work, along with names of who witnessed them. Notes from the time of the incident will help you if a manager tries to bully, fine or sack you later.

If you’re in an employment contract, even in several different jobs, the employer should pay all taxes you owe and you shouldn’t need to do any tax-related paperwork at the end of the tax year. If you start working without an NI number you will be paying additional emergency tax which you can claim back as soon as you get your NI number. Don’t panic if you overpay tax. You can always get it back by doing tax self assessment at the end of the tax year. Tax year ends on 5 April and you have until October to do the self-assessment.

Benefits

The benefit system in the UK is very complicated. There is a new system coming in based on a unique benefit: Universal Credit. In some cases, you will still have to apply for multiple ‘old style’ benefits. You can find out which benefits you should apply for on the Liverpool Council website. If you live in a ‘full service area’ you’ll need to apply for Universal Credit online. You have to apply as a couple if you and your partner live together. You do not need to be married. After you apply, you must contact your local Jobcentre Plus within 7 days to make an appointment with a work coach.

Universal Credit payment is made up of a standard allowance and any extra amounts that apply to you, for example if you have children, have a disability or health condition which prevents you from working or need help paying your rent. Your individual circumstance dictates how much you will get and for how long. Payments are usually low, last for a limited period of time, and you have to meet various conditions not only to start claiming, but to keep on getting the money.

If you are an EU citizen, you have to work for three months in the UK to be entitled to benefits. If you are from outside the EU, you may be able to claim some benefits but the rules are extremely complicated. Claiming benefits as a non-EU citizen may negatively impact your right to remain in the UK.

Legal issues

Police and Courts

Police are racist and xenophobic. As a migrant, police are less likely to investigate if you are the victim of a crime, and you’re more likely to be presume your guilt. They deal really badly with crimes affecting women, such as domestic violence and sexual assault. It is often difficult to report such incidents, because the police are unwilling to take them seriously and are horrible to the victims. If you’re going to police station take a friend to support you and write down what they say to you. If they refuse to record your complaint, you can go to another police station and try again. If you are reporting sexual assault, domestic violence or a hate crime (e.g. a racist or homophobic attack) it is often easier to find the “Community Safety Unit” and go through them first as they are less likely to be prejudiced.

If you are stopped by the police in the street, try to stay calm. They can stop you and question you but you don’t have to answer. They should only search you if they have reasonable grounds to suspect you of committing a crime but in practice they do what they want. They have the right to make you remove your jacket and gloves. You have the right to a record of the arrest, which should have the ID number of the police officer on it.

If you are arrested you have to give the police your name, address and date of birth. Don’t answer any questions without speaking to a solicitor. You have a right to free solicitor for the police interview. Don’t get a solicitor recommended by the police (a duty solicitor), try to find someone recommended by people you know. You have a right to a phone call and you have a right to a translator.

Immigration

The immigration police are called UK Border Agency or UKBA. They regularly raid markets, shops, public transport stations, and homes in the neighbourhoods where migrant communities live. Even though EU citizens have a right to live in the UK, the police and UKBA have deported people in the past. This is more likely to happen if you’re long term unemployed or homeless.

If the UK Border Agency or police stop you in the street and ask about your immigration status you don’t have to answer any questions. You don’t have to tell them your name and address. Tell them that you do not want to talk to them, stay polite but confident and walk away. They are not allowed to stop you just because of your race. If they stop you just because of how you look, or the language you speak, tell them: This is racist, this is illegal, I will make a complaint.

Brexit

If you are an EU citizen and you want to continue living in the UK after December 2020, you will need to apply to get either settled or pre-settled status. To be eligible for settled status, you’ll usually need to have been living in the UK continuously for 5 years and have started living in the UK by 31 December 2020. If you’ve lived in the UK for less than 5 years, you’ll generally be eligible for ‘pre-settled status’ instead.

The EU Settlement Scheme will open fully by March 2019. The deadline for applying will be 30 June 2021. You may be able to apply after this date if you’re joining a family member with settled or pre-settled status in the UK. The fee to apply will be: £65 if you’re 16 or over and £32.50 if you’re under 16.

If you won’t continue living in the UK after December 2020 at all, you may prefer not to apply for any settled status.

Who You Can Contact?

It is likely that you will face trouble at work, with your landlord or with the bureaucratic system. Bear in mind that bosses and landlords are normally racist and sexist, so their abuses are not something personal but assaults that most migrants will suffer. Do not be afraid of sharing your troubles with people around you, asking for advice or speaking out publicly about it; it is not your fault! There are several organisation and charities which can offer you free advice and support in some cases. Do not hesitate to contact them if you need more support.

Solidarity Federation is an anarcho-syndicalist initiative. You can contact us if you are facing any kind of trouble and want to fight back. We are not advisers so we cannot provide legal support. We are workers, tenants, claimants, students and pensioners creating a solidarity network. We have experience challenging bully bosses and landlords through direct action and we have different informative campaigns about housing and working rights. If you do not trust laws, courts and bureaucrats, and believe in solidarity; we are your best option!

Citizens Advice is a charity which offers free advice about benefits, work, housing and immigration… They have several branches within Merseyside. The nearest to town are Wavertree and Toxteth, and they also have branches in Birkenhead, Kirkby, St Helens and Bootle. The quality of the service varies from each branch and depends on volunteers and lawyers availability. Normally, you will be asked to book an appointment beforehand. Remember, they just offer advice. The charity has recently been bought by the Department for Work and Pensions (government department), so beware of sharing confidential information with them, and remember they will only be offering advice compatible with conservative government policy.

Shelter is a charity which offers free advice about housing by advisors and solicitors. They have a branch in Hanover Street. They offer drop-in sessions, but the best option usually is to book an appointment. If you are facing eviction or are a homeless person you may qualify for their free legal support and be represented by one of their lawyers.

MAMA (Migrant Artists Mutual Aid) is a cross national network of women, mothers, migrants, artists, academics and activists who work together to support members of the group who are seeking sanctuary, and campaign for justice in the migration system.

Asylum Link is an organisation dedicated to assisting Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Liverpool and to raising public awareness around refugee issues. They offer advice about migration, housing, work, and also other services such as English lessons, meals or social activities. Their branch is in Wavertree.

Anthony Walker Foundation is a registered charity established by Anthony’s family after his racially motivated murder in 2005. Their hate crime support service assists individuals and families experiencing hate crime, empowering them to regain wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem.