Restrictions on council housing central to government plans to deter EU migrants
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities
Restrictions on council housing central to Government plans to deter EU migrants
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is considering plans to give councils the ability to restrict social housing to those with a long-term local connection as part of wider government efforts to deter EU migrants from coming to the UK.
The last Labour government agreed controls on immigration from Bulgaria and Romania when the two countries joined the European Union in 2007, but these expire at the start of next year.
The coalition fears mass immigration from the two countries could put additional pressure on the UK's welfare system, in particular council housing, access to health care and benefit payments.
Ministers are said to be looking at a "huge range" of options "department by department".
On the subject of strengthening the link between access to social housing and local connections, Pickles told the BBC: "It does seem to me to be immensely sensible to ensure that if you work in an area or you've got a big connection – you might have been educated there or your family might be nearby – to receive some kind of priority in social housing."
Some local authorities, such as Westminster, require a 10-year proven local connection for a resident to be given extra points on the housing waiting list, but in reality many access social housing through homelessness routes, or through their children, so making the local connection route less relevant. Under European law, EU citizens cannot be discriminated against.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, meanwhile, is said to be examining whether someone could only be deemed "habitually resident", and therefore entitled to social security benefits, if they have been in the UK for a year, instead of the current three months.
And the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is also looking at further reducing access to legal aid for migrants.
The government's plans have been welcomed by Labour MP Frank Field. Field claimed the threat of mass migration from Romania and Bulgaria gave the government the opportunity to "change the nature of the welfare state".
He told the BBC: "Similarly it's a chance for Labour to decide about whether or not they want to see a welfare state which is based on contributions that can be built up by their own efforts, by their own residency, or whether in fact you continue as we have in the past since 1979 of just giving welfare out if you can prove need."