Government response

The European Commission's announcement on access to benefits

The government's response to the European Commission's announcement on access to benefits by migrants.

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

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A government spokesperson said:

It is absolutely imperative that we do all we can to protect our benefits system from abuse by migrants. The ‘right to reside’ part of our Habitual Residence Test is a vital and fair tool to ensure that benefits are only paid to people who are legally allowed to live in Britain.

Our rules are in line with European Union law and fully support the freedom of people to work or look for work, while making sure there are restrictions on access to benefits for those who have never worked in the UK and have no intention of doing so.

We will not only fight this action but press ahead with plans to strengthen Britain’s benefits system to ensure it cannot be abused.

Background

Our Habitual Residence Test is composed of two elements – an assessment of legal right to reside and an assessment of factual habitual residence.

It is right that people who have paid taxes and contributed to our country should receive support when they fall on hard times.

The UK is fully committed to free movement but migrants who have never worked here, or who aren’t looking for work, shouldn’t be able to claim benefits – we can’t have a system which allows ‘inactive’ migrants to become a burden on our welfare scheme.

This is not about discriminating against nationalities or stopping hard working people coming to the UK to contribute.

Our rules on access to benefits are not discriminatory. They are justified and are in line with EU legislation.

Our rules fully support the freedom of workers to work or look for work, while making sure there are reasonable restrictions on access to benefits for those who have never worked in the UK and have no intention of doing so.

If the European Commission’s view prevails, people with no right of residence and links to a country will be able to claim welfare benefits.

We want to see a fairer balance of responsibilities between member states and a system that is fair and transparent for migrants and non-migrants alike so that the general public know that the system isn’t being abused.

The Habitual Residence Test

The Habitual Residence Test was originally introduced in 1994 to protect the benefit system from abuse. The aim was to ensure that income-related benefits are paid to people with reasonably close ties to the UK and an intention to settle here.

The Test was significantly tightened in May 2004 to include a ‘right to reside’ requirement, based on conditions set out in the European Directives which set out the right of residence.

A person has a right to reside if, for example, they are looking for work, are self-employed, a student or have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on the social assistance system.

Without the right to reside element, economically inactive EEA nationals would be able to claim, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-related Jobseeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit, and Housing Benefit once they had shown that they were factually habitually resident. They are generally not eligible for those benefits at the moment.

Published 30 May 2013