Press release

Government publishes overseas benefit claimant research

The Government has published the first detailed research tracking the country of origin of benefit claimants currently in the UK.

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

The Government has published the first detailed research tracking the country of origin of benefit claimants currently in the UK who were overseas nationals when the entered the country.

The previous Government did not keep records of the nationality of a benefit claimant and so it has not been possible to publish details up to now.  These figures were produced as a result of a series of data matches between the Department of Work and Pensions, UK Border Agency and HM Revenue and Customs to build the best possible picture.

It found that as of February 2011 there were 371,000 people claiming DWP working age benefits who were non-UK nationals when they first registered for a National Insurance Number, of these 258,000 were non-EEA nationals.

Many of the 258,000 non-EEA nationals at the time of National Insurance Number registration are now British Citizens and as such are fully entitled to means tested benefits as are EEA nationals and some non-EEA nationals. Of those where a match could be found, 54 per cent of the claimants who were non-EEA nationals at time of registration for National Insurance Numbers have become British citizens.

A follow up sample exercise looked at the cases of 9,000 non-EEA nationals. The results of that exercise matched nearly three out of four cases between the departments’ records. Of those that were fully matched, 98 per cent were matched to an immigration or nationality status entitling them to benefit.

Two per cent of cases appeared to have no lawful immigration status and the legitimacy of their status for benefit purposes is now being investigated.

The DWP is co-coordinating with UKBA to review the small number of cases where it appears that benefit is being claimed illegitimately. Where this is the case, benefit will be stopped and further enforcement activity considered.

The results of these investigations will be passed to HM Revenue and Customs and local authorities, in order to ensure any tax credits, child benefit or housing benefit will also be withdrawn.

With the introduction of Universal Credit from 2013, the Government is developing ways to record nationality at source. In addition the Government will be exploring ways in which it can effectively review the immigration status checks of claimants on a regular basis to ensure that benefit is being properly paid and to stop fraud where it has occurred. 

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said:

It is not acceptable that people from other countries can claim our benefits if they have not worked or paid tax in the UK. We will root out those claimants who can not prove their immigration status and in turn they will be stripped of their benefits.

I was shocked to discover that the current system does not record the nationality of benefit claimants and we are urgently taking steps to make sure we know exactly how many non-UK nationals are claiming UK benefits.  Welfare reform is giving us the opportunity to reshape the system and in developing of Universal Credit we are looking at how to record nationality at source.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said:

These findings uncover a worrying issue we have inherited, which is why we’ve ordered urgent work to pursue claimants suspected of abuse and to withdraw their benefits if they cannot prove they are entitled to claim.

We are taking a zero tolerance approach towards abuse of this kind, including where this involves fraud by foreign nationals with no right to access benefits.

Exchequer Secretary David Gauke said:

This Government will not tolerate people who dishonestly divert money away from those who are genuinely entitled to it. We will provide support to people who come to this country in line with our national and international obligations. However, we also have a duty to protect taxpayers from possible abuse. DWP will pass the data of those who should not be in receipt of benefits to HMRC, who will look into all relevant tax credit and child benefit awards and cancel them where necessary.

Notes to Editors:

  • The research report:
  • As at February 2011, over 5 and a half million people were claiming DWP working age benefits. Of these 371 thousand (6%) are estimated to have been non-UK nationals when they first registered for a NINo
  • There is significant variation in this rate by benefit type; 8.5% all of Jobseekers are estimated to have been non-UK nationals when they first registered for a NINo contrasted with 3.5% for working age disabled benefit claimants
  • Across all DWP working age benefits, 25% of those claimants who were non-UK nationals at the time they first registered for a NINo were from within the European Union. Of the remainder, Asia and Middle East (34%) and Africa (27%) form the largest proportion of those claimants who were non-UK nationals at the time of first NINo registration
  • Across all DWP working age benefits, the top 20 individual nationalities comprise claimants from across most ‘world areas’; within Asia and Middle East, Pakistan and India, hold the 1st and 3rd nationalities, with Bangladesh (5th) Iraq (6th) and Iran (8th). Somalia (2nd), Nigeria (11th) and Eritrea (19th) are within Africa region; Poland (7th) is the only previous Accession state to appear in the top 20
  • Republic of Ireland, France, and Italy all appear as EU nationals; Turkey as Europe non-EU; and Jamaica as Americas
  • Initial results from a sample exercise to match non-EEA claimants who were recorded as foreign nationals at the time they first registered for a NINo suggests that more than half (54%) will have obtained British citizenship subsequently, and the majority of the remainder will have some form of immigration status providing legitimate access to public funds in certain circumstances.
  • As at February 2011, 17% of working age UK nationals were claiming a DWP working age benefit compared to 7% of working age non-UK nationals (at the time they first registered for a NINo)1). Claimants who were non-UK nationals when the registered for a NINo may of course subsequently have become permanent residents or British citizens.

The table below provides a breakdown of the fully matched caseload by immigration status:

Immigration status %

British Citizenship 54%

Indefinite Leave to Remain 29%

Discretionary/Time Limited Leave to Remain 5%

Refugee status 10%

No lawful immigration status 1%

Under immigration enforcement action 1%

Total 100%

  • Some 54% of the claimants who were non-EEA nationals at time of registration for National Insurance Numbers have subsequently naturalised in the UK.  British citizens and those with leave to remain have access to public funds.
  • Of those with limited leave to remain, some immigration categories such as those with discretionary leave or humanitarian protection will have access to public funds, whilst most other temporary non-EEA migrants are prevented from accessing income-related benefits.
  • Eligibility for income related benefits:

a) Migrants from outside the EEA: Non-EEA nationals who are subject to immigration control excluded from income-related benefits. People given certain types of leave to enter or remain in the UK may be eligible for income related benefits, including people who have been granted refugee status, exceptional leave to enter or remain, Humanitarian Protection, discretionary leave or Indefinite leave to enter/remain.

b) Migrants from the EEA: * EEA nationals with ‘worker status’ (i.e. people in work and those who have left work their job but are looking for alternative work) are eligible for income-related benefits (including in-work benefits such as Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit and HMRC’s Tax Credits).  Those who can demonstrate they are actively seeking work are immediately eligible for income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. * Accession Country Nationals (A8 and A2) may be eligible for income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance but only if they have been working and registered for at least 12 months with the Home Office Worker Registration Scheme’ or ‘Worker Authorisation Scheme’ and are seeking work. * Inactive EEA nationals (including accession country nationals), i.e., people who are neither in work nor seeking work, cannot access income-related benefits. * Contributory benefits are payable to anyone who satisfies the contributions and other conditions for the benefit, regardless of nationality.


1. Source: Resident working age UK population figures based on country of birth 2010, ONS

.*[EEA] European Economic Area *[NINo]: National Insurance Number

Published 20 January 2012