HC Deb 20 January 2004 vol 416 cc1214-5W
Sir Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) whether the residents of the nations securing membership of the EU in May will have automatic right of access to the United Kingdom on that date; and whether they will have access to social security and housing benefits; [146651]

(2) which member states of the EU have placed restrictions for seven years on the entitlement of new EU citizens to gain access and to secure benefits in their nations; and whether the UK is able to seek similar restrictions. [146652]

Beverley Hughes

[holding answer 12 January 2004]Under the EU Accession Treaty, citizens of all 10 new member states will enjoy the same right to travel freely across the EU as is enjoyed by citizens of the current member states, for all but one of the purposes envisaged by the EC Treaty. The Accession Treaty allows the 15 current member states to impose temporary restrictions on the right of citizens of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia to travel freely across the EU for the purpose of work. These restrictions may last, at the most, until 30 April 2011. Cypriot and Maltese citizens will enjoy free movement for work across the EU automatically on accession.

The United Kingdom Government, along with Denmark, Netherlands, Greece, Ireland and Sweden, have decided to allow access to their labour markets immediately upon the accession. Many other member states have yet to make any final decisions. France and Germany have indicated that they will impose some temporary restrictions on workers for at least two years from accession.

Citizens of the new member states will have the same rights and restrictions as citizens of existing EU member states in relation to access to social security and housing benefits.

Under EC law, a citizen of the European Union may not be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality and must enjoy the same access to social security benefits as a national of the state of residence.

The habitual residence test, which applies to income related non-contributory benefits, such as housing benefit and pension credit, has to be satisfied before a person can receive these benefits.

Entitlement to contributory benefits, such as state pension, depends on payment of national insurance contributions.

Citizens of other EU member states cannot come to the UK simply to claim benefits. They must first meet the Habitual Residence Test (HRT). The HRT covers non-contributory benefits including income support, jobseeker's allowance, housing benefit, and council tax benefit.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the benefits system and the taxpayers who support it are protected against abuse by people with little or no connection with the UK. Measures already in place under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, together with the HRT, help insure this. This area is kept under constant review to ensure that the benefit system remains fully robust and resistant to abuse.