Reports in the media that the European Commission is forcing the UK Government to hand welfare benefits to EU immigrants as soon as they arrive in the UK are wrong.
We made the point several months ago on this blog – February 2013
It is a myth that EU law means that EU migrants are automatically entitled to claim benefits in the UK or another Member State from the moment they step off the plane, train or ferry. In fact, EU rules require migrants to meet stringent requirements before they can be eligible either for means tested “social assistance” benefits like housing benefit and income support or for social security benefits like child benefit, invalidity benefit or contribution-based Jobseekers’ Allowance.
Likewise, the Commission is not involved in a “power grab”.
The Commission is legally obliged under EU treaties and rules to ensure that all member states abide by the EU laws they themselves agreed and signed-up to. If the Commission did not then it would be failing in its duties as Guardian of the Treaties. This is why for example the Commission has opened an infringement case against Spain over alleged failures by hospitals in Spain to give emergency medical treatment to tourists from the UK and other Member States on the basis of their European Health Insurance Card.
The European Commission referred the UK Government to the European Court of Justice over its use of an additional test applied to EU immigrants – “right to reside” – because it goes beyond measures agreed upon unanimously and introduced by EU member states – the “habitual residence” test.
The EU habitual test enables EU member states to ensure that social security benefits are only granted to those EU citizens who have genuinely moved their “habitual” residence to another EU country.
As a result of the UK Government applying the additional “right to reside” test, some EU nationals living in the UK are deprived of social security benefits which they are entitled (in full compliance with EU rules and within the strict limits of those rules – just as UK nationals now living in other EU member states are entitled to claim benefits).
In many cases, these EU nationals have worked and paid their tax and social security contributions in the UK, yet are still refused benefits. Simply arriving in the UK and seeking a job is not sufficient to pass the EU habitual residence test.
EU workers arriving in the UK can remain in the UK for three months, but if they do not get a job within that time and if they do not have sufficient financial means to support themselves, then they cannot stay, let alone claim benefits.
EU citizens will only pass the EU habitual residence test if they have genuinely moved their centre of interests to the UK and have lived in the UK for a considerable period of time.