EU nationals rejected for government support after the coronavirus hit say the U.K. government isn’t playing fair, POLITICO reports.
The report says that due to the pandemic, ‘an increasing number of EU citizens living in Britain applied for British benefits for the first time.’ This is due to the fact that many found themselves out of work or with a drastically reduced income.
“Under the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the European Union as part of the Brexit process, the U.K. government committed to preserving the rights of any EU citizen in Britain when the country left the bloc at the end of January 2020, promising to treat them equally to Brits. As of the end of March, nearly 1.3 million Europeans had been granted pre-settled status by the U.K. government and so could be at risk of not qualifying for support during the pandemic.
According to the report ‘those who have lived in Britain less than five years — and have been granted pre-settled status under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme — are discovering that they are not automatically entitled to Universal Credit, a means-tested benefit for those out of work or in low-paid jobs. Many are also being rejected despite apparently meeting the criteria, said Maurizzio Rodorigo, managing director at the Italian Advice Centre in Islington, London. The issue, according to Rodorigo, is the so-called right to reside requirement. This stipulates EU migrants who have lived in the U.K. less than five years must prove they are looking for work, are self-employed, a jobseeker or a student, or have sufficient resources to support themselves and their families.’
In April, The3million, a group that campaigns for the rights of EU citizens in Britain, wrote a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey saying those with pre-settled status are not receiving equal treatment to U.K. nationals and EU citizens with settled status, and accusing the U.K. of failing to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.
“We have received numerous reports that since the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement earlier this year and in particular since the Covid-19 outbreak, EU citizens and their family members are being refused Universal Credit despite having a status granted to them under the Withdrawal Agreement.
Anyone wishing to access Universal Credit must demonstrate that they have a right to reside in the UK i.e. are legally allowed to live in the UK. British citizens do this by providing proof of their nationality. As such, citizens with EU Settlement Scheme status must be afforded the same, equal treatment.
Whilst citizens with Settled Status via the EU Settlement Scheme pass the right to reside test, citizens with pre-Settled Status do not. Some of their applications are refused. This is the effect of Regulation 9(3)(c)(i) of the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. This regulation aims to deny citizens with EU Settlement Scheme status equal rights with British citizens. It denies equal treatment to citizens who can prove they have a right to reside recognised under Part II of the Withdrawal Agreement unless they can also prove a second, separate, right to reside under EU law. The regulation makes these citizens’ right to reside under the EU Settlement Scheme worthless for benefits purposes.
The outcome is that citizens with pre-Settled Status – who have been granted the legal right to reside in the UK – are being discriminated against compared to British citizens. This appears to be in contravention of the UK’s obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, in particular Article 23.
This cannot be right. Families are facing great hardship in these very challenging times.
Any citizen granted any status via the EU Settlement Scheme should satisfy the right to reside test and be eligible for Universal Credit.”
However, the government insists they are protecting the rights of all EU citizens and that the additional requirement for EU citizens who have only recently come to Britain has always been in the rules.
“By applying to the EU Settlement Scheme, EU citizens living in the U.K. will be able to work, study and access benefits and services in the U.K. on at least the same basis as they do now,” a spokesperson said.
Maike Bohn, co-founder of The3million, urged the British government “to remove all bureaucratic hurdles for EU citizens.”
“People aren’t able to get the help they need, including benefits. That is so important in times of crisis like COVID-19 where families are facing great hardship,” she said.