News story

Further curbs to migrant access to benefits announced

Government to extend new rules limiting migrant access to out-of-work benefits to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. Migrants will face tougher scrutiny of their English skills in return for benefits.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


From 1 July 2014, jobseekers arriving in the UK will need to live in the country for three months in order to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. Migrant jobseekers already face a three-month wait before they can claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

The government wants a credible, fair and transparent system that that helps people move within the EU to work and supports migrants and non-migrants alike. However, the Prime Minister has made it clear that abuse and clear exploitation of the UK’s welfare system will not be tolerated.

The government has also announced that from today new claimants eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance will also no longer have routine access to interpretation services, and from the end of the month (28 April) their spoken English will be tested in England. If claimants’ language is found to be a barrier to looking for work they will be expected to improve it.

The government is determined to cap welfare and reduce immigration as part of Britain’s long-term economic plan and ministers want to make clear the importance of being able to speak English when looking for a job and participating in society.

Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Nicky Morgan said:

The government is building a system that is fair and consistent, one that supports those who want to work hard.

These changes send a strong message that our welfare system is not open to abuse and will deter those who think that they can move to the UK primarily to claim benefits.

Making work pay is part of our long term plan to ensure that Britain’s growing economy and dynamic jobs market deliver for those who work hard and play by the rules.

Under the changes, migrant jobseekers arriving in the UK will need to live in the country for three months before they can claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. After they have met the three months residence requirement, they will also need to demonstrate that they meet the normal eligibility rules before they can claim either benefit.

Under the new English language requirement, new claimants will be screened by Jobcentre Plus and those with poor spoken English will need to take part in local training to improve their language skills and chances of securing and keeping a job.

Claimants will be expected to improve within 6 months and sanctions will apply if claimants refuse to attend or don’t show they are making an effort to improve their skills.

The routine use of interpreting services will stop from 9 April 2014 for all new JSA claimants, apart from claimants judged to be vulnerable and in need of support to protect people who genuinely need it.

Currently, jobseekers who don’t speak English are provided with routine access to interpretation services when they claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, costing the taxpayer around £3 million every year. Ministers want to call time on this practice and stop subsidising unemployed migrants who do not learn English, hindering their ability to find a job and integrate into British life.

The government has taken a number of steps to restrict migrant access to benefits in addition to today’s announcement, they include:

  • from 1 January all newly-arrived EEA jobseekers have to wait for 3 months before they can get income-based JSA; this will make sure that only people who have a clear commitment to the UK and plan to contribute to the economy have access to our welfare system
  • after 3 months, migrants will also have to take a stronger, more robust Habitual Residence Test if they want to claim income-based JSA
  • if they meet the conditions for entitlement, EEA jobseekers will only be able to get JSA, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit for 6 months - after 6 months, only those who have a job offer or compelling evidence that they have a genuine chance of finding work will be able to continue claiming, and then only for a short period
  • from 1 April, new EEA jobseekers will no longer be able to get Housing Benefit
  • from 1 March, migrants from the EEA who claim to be in work or self-employed in order to gain access to a range of benefits including JSA, Housing Benefit, Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit will face a more robust test, which includes satisfying a minimum earnings threshold

The government has already taken action to make clear the importance of being able to speak English. This includes:

  • introducing English language assessments as part of the tests for visas for non-EU migrants, including for those using the student and family routes
  • a more robust Habitual Residence Test which asks migrants if their English language skills are a barrier to them getting work; if their language skills fails to improve and they don’t have a genuine prospect of getting a job, they could be stopped from claiming benefits altogether after just six months as a result of the changes introduced from 1 January
  • Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has also made clear to councils that they too must reduce spending on translation services, setting out the Government’s view that such translation services can have an unintentional, adverse impact by reducing the incentive to learn English.

Further information

This change to interpretation services will be applied to those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. It will not affect existing claimants, Welsh speakers, or claimants who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired.

Jobcentre Plus staff will be given discretion to use interpreter or translation services where they consider this is necessary and beneficial to the Department to do so. For example, if it was necessary for an understanding of the claimant commitment, or if a claimant was particularly vulnerable. But this will not be the general rule.

Benefit fraud investigations and interviews under caution will still use interpreting and translation services.

Recent census figures showed that across England 1.7% of the population have either no, or poor spoken English – rising up to 9% in some London boroughs. 5% of the population do not speak English as their first language (rising to 9% in London) but this does not take into account their level of proficiency in English as a second language.

The change to interpretation services is expected to reduce spending. DWP handles around 400,000 interpretation queries a year and provides the service for over 140 languages. The most common languages being interpreted are Slovak, Polish and Czech.

HMRC will continue to work towards reducing the use of interpretation services. The Department has already cut spending on interpretation by around two thirds since 2010. HMRC will continue to encourage customers to use free online services, or friends or family (over the age of 16), before a translator or interpreter is considered at a cost to the taxpayer.

Published 8 April 2014