Concerns have been raised over Government plans to restrict access to Universal Credit for jobseekers arriving in the UK from the European Union (EU).
New regulations, which came into force on Monday, mean that under Universal Credit no EU jobseekers will be able to access means-tested benefits without having first worked in the UK.
In addition to restrictions on Universal Credit claims, all EU jobseekers need to have lived in the UK for at least 3 months before they can claim income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.
Once these three months are up, EU job seekers will have to take a ‘Habitual Residence Test’ if they want to claim income-based JSA.
After 3 months on JSA they must be able to pass a ‘genuine prospect of work’ test, or lose benefits and their right to reside in the UK as a jobseeker.
New migrant job seekers from the EU are also no longer able to claim Housing Benefit.
And those who are self-employed face a new test to decide whether they should be considered a ‘worker’ or ‘ex-worker’ with a ‘minimum earnings threshold’.
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “These tough new rules are part of the government’s long-term economic plan to protect the benefits system and ensure EU migrants come to this country for the right reasons and to contribute to the economy.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith added: “Universal Credit is a new benefit that will make work pay and help lift people out of poverty and it is already transforming lives.
“As part of the government’s long-term economic plan we have led the way with a series of measures to tackle abuses, tighten immigration routes, and toughen up the rules on access to UK benefits – and we have seen other European countries follow our lead and take similar action.
“Our new rules for Universal Credit will ensure we have a fair system where people cannot claim means tested benefits until they have worked.”
However, the Government’s plan to bar new EU job seekers from claiming Universal Credit has come under criticism from an influential group of MPs.
In a letter to Iain Duncan Smith, chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) Paul Gray MP said, the committee “have a number of concerns about the proposals” to “exclude jobseekers and their family members from Universal Credit”.
He said the proposed changes will affect, “not only potential migrants considering whether to come to GB in search of work, but also EEA nationals and their dependants who have already settled and worked in the UK.”
According to the SSAC, barring EEA nationals from claiming Universal Credit could mean that “a significant number of families” would “suffer hardship”.
“Indeed a number of respondents to our earlier consultation were clear that, in the case of family or relationship breakdown, some people would be wholly reliant upon friends, charities and local authorities for help”, said Mr Gray.
“This would particularly be the case for a number of people who have been in the country and contributed for some time. For them, in practical terms, ‘home’ is here.”