Government beefs up rules to hamper EU migrants' entitlement to benefits
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Regulation
The government has introduced new rules it says will ensure that migrants to the UK cannot take advantage of the benefits system.
Brought in on 1 January, the steps include regulations that mean jobseekers from the EU will have to wait three months before they can apply to claim income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), after which time they will have to take a "stronger, more robust test" to qualify for the benefit.
Additionally, in order to pass the Habitual Residence Test, migrants will have to answer more individually tailored questions, provide more detailed answers, and submit more evidence before they will be allowed to make a claim.
For the first time, they will also be asked about what efforts they have made to find work before coming to the UK and whether their English language skills will be a barrier to them finding employment.
Should they pass they test, migrants will then only be able to claim JSA for six months under the new regime, after which only those who have compelling evidence that they have a genuine chance of finding work will be able to continue claiming.
The hasty reforms have been driven by a wave of anxiety in the media over the ending of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians on 1 January.
Despite concerns that the government's changes to the rules are illegal under European law, Prime Minister David Cameron said: "All of this we can legally do within the limits of the treaties."
And the government plans to bring in further reforms later in the year, including barring new job seekers from the European Economic Area access to housing benefit, and introducing an earnings threshold to trigger a test which it says will check that someone isn’t claiming to have, or have had, a job, or be self-employed to access benefits.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, said: "The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system.
"That is why, as part of the government’s long-term economic plan, we have taken action. New rules are now in place to ensure we have a fair system – one which provides support for genuine workers and jobseekers, but does not allow people to come to our country and take advantage.
"I know that other countries across Europe share our concerns, so we’ll continue to work with them to ensure we can protect the integrity of our benefits system."
The government's beefed-up Habitual Residence Test is now being used in all jobcentres in England, Scotland and Wales, and will apply to any migrant (including British nationals returning from a period living or working abroad) who has a face-to-face interview at the new claim stage.
The reformatted test has seen the bank of available questions increase by more than 100, whilst the IT system will ensure that the number and type of questions asked are tailored to each individual claimant and their personal circumstances, the government claims.