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AIRE Centre welcomes European Commission action to ensure that vulnerable EU citizens can receive basic support in the UK

30 May 2013

Contact: Adam Weiss, 020 7831 4276 aweiss@airecentre.org

Today the AIRE Centre welcomed the European Commission’s announcement that it will lodge a case against the UK in the Court of Justice of the European Union to ensure that EU citizens in the UK can receive state support to which they are entitled to help them avoid destitution.

The state support in question includes Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, State Pension Credit, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. The EU has adopted legislation establishing that the UK is not obligated to pay these benefits to British Citizens living abroad. However, under the legislation, the UK is obligated to allow all EU citizens who are actually ‘habitually resident’ in its territory to claim these benefits if they meet the other eligibility requirements. A person is ‘habitually resident’ in the country that is the centre of her/his life and interests. The same obligations apply to other EU Member States when British Citizens claim similar benefits there.

In addition to this ‘actual habitual residence’ test, the UK currently applies a second test known as the ‘right to reside’ test to people who wish to claim these benefits. British and Irish citizens always pass that test, but other EU citizens will not necessarily be able to do so. The Commission has concluded, and the AIRE Centre agrees, that under EU law the UK is not permitted to apply this additional test to EU citizens in its territory when they claim one of the benefits listed above.

‘The European Commission’s infringement proceedings have the potential to help some of the most vulnerable migrants in the UK, many of whom have been living and working here for years but are struggling due to old age, disability or similar hardships. If the Commission is successful, that means there will be, for example, fewer people of pension age who are sleeping on the streets because they are denied basic support’, said the AIRE Centre’s Legal Director, Adam Weiss. ‘It is worth bearing in mind that the same EU laws that are at issue in this case also help to ensure that British Citizens who are living in other EU Member States, such as Spain, can get the support they need when they are at risk of poverty.’

‘The benefits affected by these infringement proceedings are designed to provide a basic safety net to some of the most marginalised individuals in the UK. The “right to reside test” currently prevents many EU citizens in the UK from accessing these benefits, despite having an unquestionable right to do so under EU law. The infringement proceedings therefore have the potential to make a big difference’, said Eleanor Sibley, a staff lawyer at the AIRE Centre who has focused on the issue of EU citizens’ access to these benefits in the UK.

‘We advise a substantial number of elderly women, disabled women and lone parents, in particular, who are left destitute by the UK’s current policies’, added Sarah St Vincent, a staff lawyer at the AIRE Centre who is managing a project on women’s rights. ‘The vast majority of these people have worked or been self-employed in the UK, or are vulnerable for other, very serious reasons such as domestic violence or human trafficking. The European Commission’s actions will help to ensure that these women and their children are no longer left to sleep rough or face desperate poverty.’

The AIRE Centre (www.airecentre.org) is a specialist charity whose mission is to promote awareness of European law rights and assist marginalised individuals and those in vulnerable circumstances to assert those rights. Its activities include, among others, providing legal advice and representation to EU migrants who have been unable to claim the benefits listed above due to the UK’s application of the ‘right to reside’ test.

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