In another row with Europe, the European Commission is taking Britain to court because it says it is denying EU immigrants their right to claim unemployment and family welfare benefits, the Telegraph reports.
Unelected commissioners in Brussels object to the UK Government’s extra and “discriminatory” residency test that has stopped eligible migrants from EU countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, getting benefits to which they are entitled under European free movement legislation.
Commission officials told the Telegraph that repeated meetings with the Government, including “informal contacts, had failed to bridge the impasse leading to the court challenge to British law.
“The commission believes that the UK’s so-called ‘right to reside’ test fails the EU legal ‘habitual residence’ requirement. As a result of this discriminatory test EU citizens cannot receive social security benefits, such as child benefit, to which they are entitled under European law,” said an official.
“The commission asked Britain to end this discrimination against EU nationals in September 2011 but no measures have been notified to us.”
The commission will argue that welfare benefits “unfairly and illegally” denied to EU migrants include, child benefit, child tax credit, income based jobseeker’s allowance, state pension credit and income based employment and support allowances.
Commission lawyers are acting on complaints made by EU nationals living in Britain and there are a number of petitions complaining about discrimination lodged in the European Parliament.
The case comes despite David Cameron’s recent efforts to stop immigrants “abusing” the NHS and other public services in a practice known as “benefit tourism”.
The Prime Minister launched a crackdown under pressure from his eurosceptic backbenchers. The UK Independence Party, which is surging in the polls, has raised fears of a new wave of immigrants claiming benefits when restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants are lifted early next year.
Peter Lilley, a Conservative MP and former Social Security Secretary, said the European Commission’s intervention would be “costly, unwelcome and undemocratic”.
He told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme it was an example of Brussels trying to “extend its powers” and strengthens the case for Mr Cameron trying to renegotiate the relationship.
Britain is not the only country unhappy with the current rules. Earlier this year, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, gained support from Germany, Austria and Holland in a letter to the European Commission demanding tighter restrictions on access to welfare benefits.
The four countries wrote to the commission demanding a review of the 2004 EU directive that sets out free movement rights allowing migrants from European countries, such as Romania or Bulgaria, to establish residency and to claim welfare benefits.
“The European Commission has thrown a hand grenade into an already intense debate about the UK’s continued EU membership. At a time when public support for both the EU and immigration are wafer thin, this is the worst possible issue the Commission could have sought to challenge, at the worst possible time,” said Stephen Booth of the Open Europe think tanbk.
“This is legally complex but the Government has no option but to fight this case all the way. It should also seek the help of other countries which have expressed similar concerns in order to rewrite EU rules to reflect the UK’s universal welfare system.”
Diplomats have suggested that the commission court case against Britain is motivated by “nipping in the bud” moves by increasing numbers of government to make it more difficult establish residency in order to claim benefits.
One of the cases taken up by the commission as part of its legal challenge involves a woman who had lived in Italy for 18 years before coming to Britain to work for an Italian company. She then worked in the UK from April 2007 until April 2009 when she was made redundant.
“Throughout her employment in the UK, she paid taxes and national insurance contributions, yet her claim for income-based jobseekers’ allowance was refused on the grounds that she did not have a right to reside in the UK,” a commission document argues.
“If the UK had applied EU social security coordination rules, those citizens confirmed as habitually resident in the UK would enjoy the same protection as habitual residents in other EU member states.”
The commission’s legal case will centre on the “habitual residence” test that is currently criticised as too weak by Britain, Germany, Holland and Austria.
The “thorough and strict application” of the test is seen, by the commission, as a “a powerful tool for member states to make sure that these social security benefits are only granted to those genuinely residing habitually within their territory”.
The commission regards Britain additional “right to reside” test as “imposed unilaterally by the UK” and a measure that only British nationals can qualify for “solely on the basis of their UK citizenship, whereas other EU nationals have to meet additional conditions in order to pass”.
“This means that the UK discriminates unfairly against nationals from other member states. This contravenes EU rules on the coordination of social security systems which outlaw direct and indirect discrimination in the field of access to social security benefits,” the commission’s legal case argues.
New Brussels proposals tabled last month ignored the British, German, Dutch and Austrain protests over benefits tourism by making it easier for migrants to move to Britain including “redress against any breach of rights”.
Laszlo Andor, the EU commissioner for “employment, social affairs and inclusion”, has dismissed the concerns and accused the Government of scaremongering with claims “inflated because of domestic political reasons”.
“We have been requesting figures from the administration and we have never been given them,” he said. It has been proven on a number of occasions that financial implications and estimates of EU migration have been significantly inflated,” he said last month. Source: The Telegraph.
Bulgarians and Romanians who migrate to the UK find it hard enough to obtain an NI number to study and work, yet alone benefits.
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