One positive of COVID-19 is that more people have been able to work from home, which is a real bonus for mobile army families. Whilst this means that there’s a greater chance of keeping hold of your job when posted, the idea that you can just pick up your laptop, move overseas and carry on working without any potential problems is far from a reality.
AFF’s Overseas Manager, Esther Thomas, has seen a rise in families wanting information about rules and regulations. “Working remotely whilst overseas is not as simple as it may appear and we’ve been working hard to ensure that you have the right information to make an informed decision,” she says.
Rights, rates and rules
It’s important that you’re fully aware of the impact of working whilst accompanying your soldier overseas.
“You have to navigate tax residency rules and rights to work, as well as local business rates and permissions to work from home,” adds Esther. “This is complicated by host nations having different rules, or agreements, with the MOD, many of which were written in the 1950s with no expectation of spousal employment, let alone remote working!”
Getting this information isn’t straightforward, as AFF’s Employment & Training Specialist, Jenna Richardson, explains: “We’ve seen both spouses and employers experiencing difficulties in understanding the complexities of working overseas and finding the correct sources of advice.”
AFF has been liaising with the chain of command and MOD to try to improve this support. Unfortunately, we still don’t have detailed guidance, but we’re continuing to raise this issue and the need for clarity.
Claire Hallam, AFF’s Money & Allowances Specialist, has some advice on what you need to consider: “It’s really important to read the statutory residency test guidance and contact the HMRC helpline.
“Everyone’s personal tax circumstances vary, so you must get official advice. We’re liaising with HMRC to produce a factsheet for service families.”
Know before you go
AFF has also been working closely with the Army Personnel Centre to ensure that service families are prompted to think about these issues before they even start to apply for an overseas assignment. There are many things to check out before your plug in your laptop to start work!
Jill, an experienced overseas remote working spouse, sums up the current situation: “There needs to be a concerted effort to look at this issue and come up with a mechanism for helping spouses navigate the murky waters of working whilst overseas.”
AFF will continue to work on your behalf and update you with any developments at aff.org.uk. We’re keen to hear from any spouses and partners experiencing difficulties with working overseas, so do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whilst Bhav thought her posting to Kenya was an amazing opportunity for her family, she was nervous at the thought of having to give up work and fall behind in her career. She says: “I’m grateful that my employers are willing to allow me to continue to work remotely from overseas, the pandemic has had some benefits!
I’m also grateful to AFF for their help in collating some of the correct documents to satisfy my employers. The terms of my employment haven’t changed, and I will be able to continue to work flexibly.”
Jill has frequently been posted overseas and believes that whilst the army encourages spouses to work remotely and run their own online businesses, it’s failed to provide the backup support. She started her business 12 years ago in Pakistan: “No one in the MOD had a clue how to help me. I was basically told you are a one-off, just stay quiet and no one will notice.”
The family is about to begin their fourth move to a new country and yet this subject still fits squarely in the pretty difficult box. “This problem is not going away, it’s only going to start affecting more spouses.”
Charlotte, who initially struggled to get adequate information for her employers, says the experience has made her think twice about accompanying her soldier overseas. “If this doesn’t work out and I can’t continue with my employment overseas, yes, I will go, but my future outlook in terms of travelling with the army and my husband will change,” she says. “I’ve been really lucky that my husband’s chain of command has been so supportive but it’s the system, not the people, that make this so difficult.”
Fatou Cham was initially able to gain a job for six months as an office clerk in Germany under BFG. However, when the organisation changed to British Army Germany BA(G), she was made redundant. Whilst looking for work with NAAFI it became apparent that under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), non-UK nationals have restricted eligibility for some Dependant Employment Vacancies.
What made matters worse was that Fatou had to return to the UK for several months to study and take the necessary tests at personal cost to gain British citizenship. She reports: “Though the changes have been challenging, it has been a great learning experience.”
One spouse approached AFF, looking for some information on the Defence Cooperation Agreement as her UK employer was keen to maintain her employment when she moved to Kenya. Her employers were anxious that it would trigger a permanent tax issue. She explains: “It cost us £750 in legal advice to get to the position where a specific decision could be made. I’m still amazed that the military wasn’t able to provide legal advice on this common topic since I’m sure they have lawyers working for them too.”
Kelly is about to move overseas and is taking her job with Pembrokeshire County Council with her. She’s already contacted HMRC to make the necessary tax arrangements to ensure her transition is seamless. “Where we can support the armed forces, or their families, we certainly feel it’s our duty to do so,” says the council’s Chief HR Officer Catherine Evans. “The challenges of military life can be difficult, especially in terms of frequent moves. We’re very pleased to support a member of our staff to continue in the role she has thrived in for the duration of her partner’s two-year posting.”
SARA & MATT
Sara and Matt are on their fifth posting together and moved mid-pandemic to Sennelager, Germany.
Sara says: “The organisation I work for is a multinational, therefore working across locations and time zones has always been the norm.”
When the family were considering an overseas posting she had to investigate the potential to work remotely and found that in theory it was possible.
“I was lucky that my company carried out their own investigations and were willing to support me, but information was difficult to find and I did a lot of research myself, reading the relevant SOFA documents and legislation to try to support my organisation in finding the right answers.
“It is an unusual situation for employers, and I can understand why some could be put off.”
Those of you who are accompanying your soldier to the USA need an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) to work –and file US taxes – and the administration of these can take weeks.
Military spouse Kate tells us: “I’ve found the EAD process very challenging. I have to apply to renew every time my husband’s orders are extended. Delays meant my right to work expired twice in six months. I had to leave my job as a television producer as a result.” If you’re hoping to work in the US, you’re advised to apply for your EAD as soon as you have a US address – currently, you aren’t able to use the Embassy address.