Washed up – how too many ex-seafarers are finding themselves in financial trouble and homeless

2 July 2019

The Nautilus Welfare Fund charity has raised concerns about a rise in seafarer homelessness in the UK, as ex-mariners with complex medical and social needs find themselves pushed to the edges of society. Helen Kelly reports

The Nautilus Welfare Fund is warning of a sharp increase in seafarer homelessness in the UK, with its Mariners’ Park facility on the Wirral stepping in to fill the void in quality care facilities for ex-mariners.  

The self-funding UK charity, which is administered by Nautilus International, has received three referrals for homeless British seafarers in the past six months – a 200% rise on previous years.

The Nautilus Welfare Fund on average gets one referral for homelessness per year.

The men – because they are all men – come to the welfare services with complex medical and psychological needs. Some have been made homeless following marital breakdown, while others have suffered debilitating health problems that have left them unable to care for themselves.

Many are hidden in plain sight from the local community and public services that should have protected them. Some have been reduced to sleeping on friends’ floors, or sof- surfing on relatives’ couches. Drug and alcohol abuse is common.

In at least one case, an ex-mariner was living in is car after his marriage broke down.

In another case, one ex-seafarer with serious mental illness had been evicted from his council house when he became too ill to maintain the property. By the time the Nautilus Welfare Fund’s case worker got involved, he had been living in squalor with his beloved pet dog for some time. His ceiling had caved in and the home had become unfit for human occupation, with animal faeces and urine covering the living spaces.

Amy Johnson manages the domiciliary care service at Mariners’ Park. It is her job to assess the needs of potential new residents referred by frontline case worker staff and to prioritise the most serious cases.

There is a waiting list of up to one year for residential accommodation. But acute situations such as homelessness are given top priority and every effort is made to house and provide medical care for those in need. 

For some of these men, a lack of long-term financial planning has left them in a precarious situation, unable to afford to rent on the private market and left languishing on council housing waiting lists.

Many have no private pension to fall back on, and some have no state pension because they opted out of the UK Class 2 National Insurance Contributions (NIC). Most people pay these contributions as part of their self-assessment tax bill, including many self-employed seafarers. Workers pay National Insurance contributions to become eligible for the UK state pension, Maternity Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Even those seafarers who do pay some UK NICs can have gaps in payment that can leave them with a reduced state pension on retirement. This is because they may have spent time working for other flag states that do not collect their equivalent of NICs from employing companies or do not have a social security system like the UK's.

Mariners' Park is the light at the end of the tunnel. We get to see a number of successful cases here

The lucky ones

For the lucky ones, a two-bed flat or bungalow at Nautilus Mariners' Park is a unique and much-needed safety net. The 16-acre estate has immaculately-kept grounds with views of the River Mersey and the iconic Liverpool waterfront.

This retirement community contains 112 homes, and the grounds include a bowling green and walking routes to nearby New Brighton or Seacombe, where it is possible to catch the ferry to Liverpool.

The estate also has a care home, which provides both residential and nursing care, including short stay respite care for retired seafarers and their dependants.

The staff team includes qualified nurses on duty 24 hours a day, a qualified physiotherapist and an Admiral Nurse, a specialist in dementia care.

Residents often first come into contact with the services at Mariners' Park through its free caseworker service. The Nautilus Welfare fund currently has four caseworkers based in the operational areas of Hull and Grimsby; Southampton and Portsmouth; Glasgow; and Merseyside, with plans to extend further.

Case workers visit the homes of retired seafarers to help clients access the benefits and public services they are entitled to. This might include applying for Nautilus Welfare Fund grants, other financial support schemes in the UK shipping industry, or state benefits.

Ms Johnson is proud of Nautilus Welfare Fund’s 100% success rate in housing homeless seafarers. If space is scarce, she explains, the Mariners’ Park Care Home can be used as a short-term stopgap until a self-contained flat or bungalow becomes available. The team also has links with other housing services and charities and would look at the local community for more help. No-one would be turned away until every other option has been exhausted.

'The nice thing about my job is that you can give people a home, get them better,' Ms Johnson says. 'Mariners' Park is the light at the end of the tunnel. We get to see a number of successful cases here.'


Check your contributions

National Insurance  is a tax system in the United Kingdom paid by workers and employers for funding state benefits. Initially, it is a contributory form of insurance against illness and unemployment, and provides retirement pensions and other benefits. Citizens pay National Insurance contributions to become eligible for the UK state pension, Maternity Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance.

British employees aged 16 and above are mandated to pay National Insurance provided they earn above the set threshold. It is necessary to obtain a National Insurance number before starting to pay contributions.

However, if you’re a British seafarer. you may not automatically be paying UK National Insurance contributions like land-based employees. This depends on several factors, including but not restricted to:

  • where you’re legally resident or domiciled
  • where your employer or the person who pays your wages is based
  • where your vessel is registered
  • where the owner/managing owner of the vessel is based
  • where you work
  • whether you work inside or outside UK waters
  • the type of work you do
  • agreements between the UK and other countries

Check your employment contract to find out where your employer – or the company that pays your wages – is based.

If you are unsure of your National Insurance contributions, fill in the HMRC online Mariner's National Insurance questionnaire to see your NIC responsibilities:

Or email the Mariner’s National Insurance Contributions Team at .


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