Commission should launch infringement procedure against UK for abuse of EU free movement rights

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The UK is using homelessness as pretext for expelling EU nationals with the right to free movement. [twitter.commattwi1s0n/Flickr]

Mattia Bosio and Mauro Striano argue that the European Commission should sanction the UK for criminalising homelessness as a way to avoid its obligations regarding free movement in the EU.

Mattia Bosio is a legal officer at FEANTSA and Mauro Striano is a policy officer at FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with Homeless People).

In several European cities, a significant proportion of homeless people are mobile EU citizens who, in some cases do not have access to publicly funded shelters and are pushed to sleep rough. In the United Kingdom, these destitute EU mobile citizens who sleep rough are facing expulsion.

This is happening on the basis of the new European Economic Area (EEA) Regulations adopted by the UK and the guide published by the UK Home Office on the administrative removal of EU citizens and their family members, whereby rough sleeping may be intended as misuse of a right to reside. Under the guide, the Home Office established that rough sleeping alone is enough to make someone a possible target for administrative removal. According to this approach, mobile EU citizens who are working or seeking work in the UK, or even who have been in the UK for less than 3 months, may be subject to administrative removal solely because they are sleeping rough.

EU citizens who sleep rough, even as a consequence of the exercise of EU free movement rights, cannot justify the adoption of a measure founded on considerations of general prevention of homelessness and specifically targeting a certain category of EU citizens. We also believe that UK Home Office policy is justifying the removal of rough sleepers on the basis of article 35 of Directive 2004/38, which entitles member states to adopt necessary measures in cases of abuses of rights. We consider that this interpretation, whereby rough sleeping is a form of misuse of a right to reside under the guide, is not in line with the notion of abuse of rights existing at EU level under Directive 2004/38. Therefore, the United Kingdom, by considering rough sleeping as a practice that constitutes misuse of a right to reside, is failing to properly implement at national level article 35 of the Directive.

For those vulnerable EU citizens and their family members (including children) who do not have sufficient resources to afford adequate accommodation and are bound to sleep rough, this interpretation is bizarre and cruel. It seems that rather than rough sleeping being taken as a terrible experience for an individual to go through, the UK government is treating it as a potential way to take advantage of the system.

These are some of the most vulnerable people in society and they should be supported, not criminalised. The punitive approach has been jeopardising the living situations of that small minority of mobile EU citizens who have not succeeded and for whom moving to another member state has led to destitution. We rather believe that to properly help homeless mobile EU citizens, what is needed is a combination of advice and support activities

We are therefore confident that the European Commission, in the light of social values and principles of the EU and of the EU fundamental rights established in the Charter, will undertake all necessary steps to clarify the UK’s policies on the free movement of destitute EU citizens.

If you would like to access the complaint in full, please contact Mauro Striano  or Mattia Bosio.

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