03 October 2011

UK and European Commission lock horns over migrant benefits

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The European Commission has warned the UK Government of potential legal action over a dispute about social security benefits for migrants.

UK visa

The European Commission has warned the UK Government of potential legal action over a dispute about social security benefits for migrants.

The UK Government has been threatened with legal action by the European Commission for failing to comply with the right of migrants to claim benefits under EU immigration law.

Under British common law, EU nationals are required to take a 'right to reside' test in order to qualify for social security benefits in the UK.  The commission maintains that benefits must legally be offered to all successful applicants for a UK visa and that the policy is therefore discriminatory.

The UK Government has been given two months to alter its immigration policy to ensure compliance with EU laws. "Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer the UK to the EU's Court of Justice," said a statement issued by the commission this week.

UK Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that if the Government is forced to bring its policy in line with the EU requirements it will cost British taxpayers as much as £2 billion.  Mr Duncan Smith has raised concerns over the level of intervention by the commission in domestic policymaking.

"The EU settlement is supposed to protect the right of member states to make their own social security arrangements. But we are now seeing a rising tide of judgements from the European institutions using other legal avenues to erode these rights, and we should be gravely concerned," he said.

"As if this week's decision was not bad enough, we are also fighting increasing demands for the UK to pay benefits to those who have long since moved abroad, and who may never have made more than a token contribution to UK society".

The threat from the European Commission was met with strong reaction from the anti-immigration lobby. "This ruling is an open invitation to benefit tourism," said Sir Andrew Green chairman of lobby group Migration Watch.

"A three-child family would receive in £29,000 in benefits.  Clearly this risks blowing the Government's immigration policy out of the water. It must be vigorously opposed."


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