EU citizens in the UK risk being shut out of accessing the country’s welfare system as a result of a little-known test that requires them to prove that they are permanently in the UK, according to research published on Thursday (9 July).
The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK thinktank, warns that around 45,000 claims for universal credit have been rejected over the past year because of the “habitual residence” test which requires people to establish their eligibility for the UK’s Universal Credit scheme.
For EU citizens, proving a right to reside is a complex process which depends on a multitude of factors including a person’s work history, whether they have children in school, and the circumstances of their partner.
The issue of access to benefits has become a point of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizens’ rights groups have already asked the government for guarantees that EU nationals who temporarily left the UK for their home country because of the pandemic will not be shut out of accessing the UK’s social security and benefits schemes.
Millions of people have been either furloughed or unable to travel to work as a result of the pandemic, many of them EU nationals currently without access to benefits.
The report recognised that “in many situations, the EU settlement scheme will have made life easier for claimants who have lived in the UK for at least five years”, adding that “the EU settlement scheme has made it easier for many people to access UC”.
The UK’s Work and Pensions departments treat EEA citizens with five years of continuous residence as having a “right to reside” for the purposes of accessing benefits.
Although the UK government believes that most EU nationals living in the country have already applied for and been given some level of residency status, around 1.3 million have only been given ‘pre-settled’ status, according to the Home Office. Around 500,000 people are yet to apply.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel on 30 June, a group of charities and campaign groups urged the government to give ‘pre-settled status’ applicants the “automatic right to reside” so they can access social security benefits and housing support, they added.
“But this is not a silver bullet as there are millions of claimants with pre-settled status who could need to access the welfare system,” said the IPPR report.
It added that “in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is our position that such restrictions on the benefit system for migrants are not appropriate and that the HRT [Habitual Resident Test] should be suspended for at least the duration of the crisis.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]