x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

On Your Side: Reimbursing visa costs depends on workers' contracts

Keren Bobker is on your side as she answers questions on repaying visa costs, a rent dispute after a villa changes hands, find another job after not being paid, and paying into a UK pension scheme from abroad.

I have been employed by a company in the UAE for five months, but have now resigned from my job. The company is asking me to pay Dh15,000 for visa expenses. Can it do this under UAE Labour Law? JA, Dubai

The Labour Law states that an employee should not bear the costs of residency visas and labour cards. However, employers often add a clause to contracts stating that employees who leave within a certain amount of time are liable to reimburse the company. If an employee signs the contract that includes these terms, then it is enforceable, despite the Labour Law, and the costs must be paid upon leaving the company. In this case, however, Dh15,000 is unreasonable and far more than the visa would have cost to arrange. I suggest you contact the Ministry of Labour in regard to the amount the company is asking you to pay.

 

I have been renting a villa for the past five years at a very competitive rate, although we deal with all maintenance. The landlord recently sold the villa to someone else, who wants to increase our rent by a massive 50 per cent. I have been trying to understand the information from the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera), which seems to say that the new landlord can only raise the rent by 5 per cent. The new owner says that because the rent was not changed in the past three years, the Rera calculation is not valid. I can't get through to anyone at Rera and I need to be sure of my facts before I challenge him on this. WA, Dubai

Just because someone has taken ownership of a property, they do not have the right to increase the rent. The current terms will apply to the end of the tenancy year and can be increased by no more than 5 per cent - and only if you are paying significantly less than the market rate. Whether there have been increases in earlier years is not relevant. The only issue to consider is whether the amount payable is in line with current Rera tables. It is worth noting that a lease has to be registered with Rera before the regulator can assist you, but the lease can be registered by the tenant. According to Dubai Municipality's Rent Committee, the landlord is responsible for maintenance of a property and paying the associated costs to keep it in good condition.

 

In a previous column, you said that if an employer is not paying salaries, an employee can join another company without a letter of no objection (NOC). I am owed six months' salary and have reported my company to the Ministry of Labour in Dubai. The ministry has sent notices to my company advising that it will visit on three occasions, but no one came. I have an offer letter from another company in Dubai, but if I delay joining it, I may lose the opportunity. Can I get an NOC from the Ministry of Labour in Dubai, or is it not required? If the ministry does not come, it seems like I will have to wait for a couple of months without any work. I am not able to survive as already I am owed six months' salary. What can I do? I want to start a new job immediately because I need money for my survival. MR, Dubai

The Ministry of Labour has clearly stated that if an employer does not pay salaries for a period of three months, then an employee will not receive a ban on leaving employment. It is unacceptable for a company not to pay staff what they are owed and they cannot be expected to live on nothing. MR can leave his present employer without any consequences and does not need clearance from his company before starting a new job. The Wages Protection System, run by the Ministry of Labour, will show that he has not been paid. He can also take up a case against the employer for unpaid wages.

 

I have been away from the UK for many years, but have been paying voluntary National Insurance contributions as I was told this would mean I could collect a UK state pension when I retired. I have been paying into the system since I was in my 20s and am now 57. I would like to know if I should keep paying. How do I find out what I am entitled to from the UK government without being in the UK? DG, Abu Dhabi

General UK government guidance states that an individual needs to make contributions to National Insurance for 30 years to qualify for a full state pension. This includes years of voluntary contributions while a UK non-resident for tax purposes. You will be eligible to claim a state pension from the age of 65. The best thing to do is to apply for a state pension forecast using the UK government form BR19. For this, you need to be more than 30 days away from retirement, have your National Insurance number, details of marriages (whether current or dissolved) and dates of overseas employment. You can download the form from www.directgov.uk. The form must be sent to the Pension Service office (you will find the address on the form) and you should receive a response within a few weeks. The forecast provides an indication of basic and additional pension entitlements using today's prices. It is based on National Insurance contributions that have been paid to date and expected payments in the future. If you are underfunded, you will be advised how much extra you are able to contribute to top up your entitlement, should you wish to do so. You will also be told if you have paid in enough to receive the maximum entitlement. There is even an international caseworker team that will assist with enquiries from non-residents.

Keren Bobker is an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets in Dubai. Contact her at keren@holbornassets.com or onyourside@thenational.ae