‘Benefits tourism’ ruling welcomed

Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor

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A ruling by European judges restricting so-called “benefits tourism” has been welcomed in the UK.

Downing Street said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling underlined Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that freedom of movement within the EU is not an “unqualified right”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Government’s efforts to curb EU migrants’ access to benefits would “continue in light of this judgment”.

The ECJ ruled that EU countries must be allowed to refuse to grant some benefits to “economically inactive union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement solely in order to obtain another member state’s social assistance”.

The case involved a Romanian woman and her son who had been denied access to certain benefits under the German system.

She received German child benefit and social security payments but also applied for a subsistence allowance from the German social security system.

This allowance is non-contributory, but the German authorities denied her application on the basis that German law does not allow the payments to be made to EU citizens seeking employment in the country.

The Court ruled that the woman should have had sufficient means of her own to reside in Germany as she was economically inactive. It added that domestic legislation can exclude EU nationals from benefits that are available to nationals of that country, if they do not have a right of residence under the directive.

Tory MEP Anthea McIntyre, the party’s employment spokeswoman, said: “The European Court of Justice has ruled in favour of common sense. The court has made it clear that the original purpose of free movement is to allow free movement of labour and not of benefits tourists.

“If people cannot support themselves or make a meaningful contribution to the economy then they can have their benefits curbed, even if they are non-contributory benefits.”

Tory justice and home affairs spokesman Timothy Kirkhope MEP said the ruling ” will have wide-ranging implications for how the UK can tighten its welfare system to ensure only migrants that make a contribution can receive something back”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are going to look, alongside other European governments including the German government, very closely at this ruling.

“I think that one of the things that it underlines has been that freedom of movement, as the Prime Minister has said, is not an unqualified right.

“So we will look very carefully at what we and other governments can do working together in response to this judgment.”

The spokesman added: “Whilst we have already acted we will continue to see what further measures can be taken.

“Following the judgment, in a sense that work will continue but it will be able to continue in light of this judgment.”

A summary of the case produced by the ECJ said: “The Court of Justice points out that, under the directive, the host Member State is not obliged to grant social assistance during the first three months of residence.

“Where the period of residence is longer than three months but less than five years (the period which is at issue in the present case), one of the conditions which the directive lays down for a right of residence is that economically inactive persons must have sufficient resources of their own.

“The directive thus seeks to prevent economically inactive Union citizens from using the host Member State’s welfare system to fund their means of subsistence.

“A Member State must therefore have the possibility of refusing to grant social benefits to economically inactive union citizens who exercise their right to freedom of movement solely in order to obtain another member s tate’s social assistance although they do not have sufficient resources to claim a right of residence; in this connection, each individual case must be examined without taking account of the social benefits claimed.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: ” Labour welcomes today’s European Court of Justice ruling on restricting benefits to immigrants from EU member states who travel simply to claim benefits.

“Labour has repeatedly called on the Government to act to ensure that the UK benefit system is only there for those prepared to contribute, including extending the three-month waiting time EU migrants have to wait before claiming benefits and ending the unfair practice of child benefit being sent abroad.

“It’s now time for ministers to act.”

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said: “Today’s ruling shows that while EU free movement is non-negotiable, it is not an unfettered right.

“Liberal Democrats are clear that the freedom to live, work and study across the continent should not mean the freedom to claim.

“Safeguards can and should be put in place to prevent benefit tourism and abuse of the system.”

Ukip’s home affairs spokeswoman Diane James said: “The Government needs to examine this judgement closely, and if need be, look to alter the rules on habitual residence which gives EU migrants open access to many UK benefits even though some of them are in reality, are not seeking work.

“In order to stop abuse of the British benefit system we must radically change it because we are members of the EU and currently subject to its rules.

“In Germany, if EU migrants do not show sufficient means of support and are not truly seeking work, they are informed of return and resettlement programmes that are applicable to them.

“If EU migrants in the UK are not genuinely seeking work, and pose a large threat to the fairness of the British welfare system, then we must take action to prevent it from being abused.”

Published: Tuesday 11th November 2014 by The News Editor

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