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Harris Tweed Weavers

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what criteria the Benefits Agency applied when designating Harris Tweed weavers as self-employed, as opposed to unemployed, during periods when they have no work; and from which date this policy has been applied; (109274)

(2) what agreements were reached in 1988 by the Government regarding the entitlement to benefits of Harris Tweed weavers; what assessment he has made of the work patterns of weavers in the context of their entitlement to benefits; and if he will make a statement.

[holding answer 18 December 2006]: There was, and is, no specific benefit legislation to cover weavers. When deciding entitlement to benefits, weavers are treated in the same way as any other worker whose employment is seasonal.

In any case of seasonal employment, the Department looks at the pattern of employment over a recognisable cycle, usually one year. If the average number of hours worked each week of this cycle is 16 or more the person is treated as in remunerative work for the whole of the period, and not entitled to benefit.

If the average number of hours worked over the cycle is less than 16 per week the person may be entitled to benefit, depending on their income. Seasonal self-employed workers have their income, less any allowable deductions, averaged over the period of the work cycle to determine a weekly amount of earnings. An amount, usually £5 for a single person, is disregarded each week.

The Harris Tweed weavers are designated as self-employed as, while they are provided with yarn to weave the tweed, they work on a self-employed rather than an employed basis. They cannot therefore be counted as unemployed during periods when they have no work.

This policy has been applied since February 2006 following a decision from the Social Security Commissioners in October 2005.