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When will flexible working changes be introduced here?

By Siobhan Harding

As from yesterday, the start of the new tax year, the right to request flexible working was extended to parents of children aged 16 or under in England, Wales and Scotland.

This change is not coming into force in Northern Ireland on this date, however a consultation will take place in the coming months on whether the right to request flexible working should be extended here also.

In this article I will look at the current right to request flexible working.

Some employees who are parents and some employees who are carers of adults have a right to ask for flexible working.

This does not mean that they have a right to work flexibly. The law only gives them a right to ask.

Flexible working arrangements may include changing from full-time to part-time work, changing working hours to fit in with, for example, school hours, term-time work or home working.

In order to have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements, a person must be an employee, have worked for their employer continuously for 26 weeks at the date on which the application is made and be a parent responsible for looking after a child or be caring for, or expect to be caring for, an adult.

If the employee is a parent, then in order to be eligible to ask for flexible working, they must have, or expect to have, responsibility for a child under the age of six (or under 18 if the child has a disability) as the child's parent and be making the application to care for the child.

If the employee is caring for an adult, then to be eligible to ask for flexible working, they must be, or expect to be, caring for a spouse, partner, civil partner or adult relative, who is in need of care or be caring for an adult who is not the spouse, partner, civil partner or adult relative of the carer but who lives at the same address as the carer. This could include, for example, an adult friend of the carer with whom she lives.

An application for flexible working must be dated and in writing and must:-

  • State that it is an application for flexible working
  • Specify the flexible working pattern applied for and the date on which it is proposed the new hours of work should start
  • Explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks the proposed change would have on the employer and how, in the employee's opinion, any such effect might be dealt with. It may be possible to show this by, for example, suggesting who may be able to cover their work for the time they are not there
  • Explain how the employee’s relationship to the child or adult meets the requirements
  • State whether a previous application for flexible working has been made to the employer, and if so, when.

An employee can only make one application for flexible working every 12 months.

This means that an employee wishing to make a request to care for an adult would still have to wait a year even if their previous request had been to enable them to care for a child.

Once an employer has received a request for flexible working, they must meet with the employee who made the request within 28 days from the date on which the application is made.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the proposed change to the employee's work pattern.

The employer must write to the employee within 14 days of the date of the meeting stating whether they agree to the new working arrangements and giving a date on which they are to start or explaining why the application cannot be accepted.

If the employer agrees to the employee's request for flexible working, it will mean a permanent change to the employee's contract.

Employees have a right to appeal against an employer’s decision to reject a request.

Further information is available from your local CAB or from the Department for Employment and Learning by telephoning 028 9025 7580 or from their website at

Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice

Belfast Telegraph


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