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Migrant benefits: EC 'unwelcome'

The European Commission is to announce today that it is taking Britain to the European Court of Justice - for failing to correctly assess whether EU migrants are entitled to social security benefits.

The BBC understands the Commission will accuse Britain of discriminating against EU nationals living and working in the UK, by applying an extra test to see if they're eligible for state support.

The last Conservative government introduced this vetting system known as the right to reside test. It meant that people who moved to the UK from abroad had to prove that they had the right to live in the UK before they could claim certain benefits.

Adam Weiss, a legal adviser working with EU migrants at the UK-based charity the Aire Centre, explained that his organisation have been complaining about the situation for several years now because it causes severe hardship for some people.

Citing the example of state pension credit, he said that "in the UK British and Irish citizens will receive that benefit in circumstances where many citizens of other EU Member states will not receive that benefit.

"That is clear discrimination in violation of the EU rules on security benefits."

The former social security secretary Peter Lilley was in charge when the habitual residency test was first introduced in this country in 1994.

He told the Today programme's John Humphrys that it was left deliberately vague - with no minimum time being set out to dictate how long a person should have lived in the UK before being eligible for benefits.

He went on to criticise the actions of the Commission saying that "this is an example of the Commission trying to extend its power to cover social security which is outside the competence of the European Union."

He said that to extend this power would be "costly, unwelcome, undemocratic... and I hope we would strongly resist it".

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday 30 May 2013.

  • 30 May 2013