EU takes Britain to court over benefits system

BRUSSELS Thu May 30, 2013 2:40pm BST

A man is reflected as he looks into the window of a job centre in central London February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A man is reflected as he looks into the window of a job centre in central London February 16, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brussels is taking Britain to Europe's top court over its benefits rules, accusing it of denying thousands of EU citizens living in Britain the right to welfare - a claim London rejects.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said on Thursday that two years of talks had failed to resolve a conflict over Britain's rules that require EU nationals to pass a special test to access a range of benefits including unemployment payments.

The British government, which is trying to cut its budget deficit while addressing public unease about immigration and abuse of its welfare system, says it will continue to enforce a "right to reside" test and pursue further benefit reforms.

Britain signed up to EU rules in 2009 allowing EU nationals living and working there to receive such benefits, while British citizens living abroad can receive benefits in those countries.

The Commission's decision to go to the European Court of Justice will be seized upon by eurosceptics as further evidence that Brussels' reach is overbearing and that Britain should leave the European Union.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on Britain's membership if he wins the next parliamentary election in 2015.

The Commission says the "right to reside" requirement violates EU law since, it argues, you can be living and paying taxes in Britain for years and still fail the test.

"Tens of thousands of EU nationals living legally in the UK have been refused access to benefits to which they are entitled," EU spokesman Jonathan Todd told a news conference.

Official figures showed London refused benefits to 28,400 EU citizens living in Britain between 2009 and 2011, Todd said, out of more than 42,000 who applied.

The Commission says it received complaints from citizens who worked in Britain and paid taxes to the British government but were denied unemployment benefits when they were made redundant.

The ECJ in Luxembourg must now rule on the issue, a lengthy process which could result in large fines for Britain if the court were to find it in breach of the law.

Britain's Conservative-led coalition government said in a statement the right to reside test was "a vital and fair tool".

"We will not only fight this action but press ahead with plans to strengthen Britain's benefits system to ensure it cannot be abused," the government said.

Britain is debating whether to remain part of the 27-nation bloc. Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Peter Lilley told BBC radio the Commission's intervention would be "costly, unwelcome and undemocratic", saying it showed Brussels was trying to "extend its powers".

However, the Commission's monitoring of countries' compliance with EU law has long been a feature of the bloc's powers, and ECJ rulings have favoured Britain in the past.

The EU executive also denied accusations that its decision to go to the court was political or that dropping Britain's special test would lead to so-called benefits tourism.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Brussels and Andrew Osborn in London; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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Comments (8)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Further proof of the UK needing a return to its 1972 relationship with Europe. (i.e not part of the EU Federal journey, but part of the Free Trade Association only)

The EU membership is prohibitively expensive in social, political and capital returns.

The returns have long diminished being part of a system that has provably failed in the past with the bankruptcy of the USSR.

May 30, 2013 11:46am BST  --  Report as abuse
anonymous38 wrote:
“A person may qualify for a derivative right of residence as the primary carer of a British citizen child.”

“With effect from 8.11.12, the Benefit regs have been amended so that a person who has a right to reside solely on the basis of the above will not satisfy the right to reside condition of the habitual residence test.”

So, a British child raised in the UK by a non British parent will not get Child Benefit. How is that fair?

May 30, 2013 2:21pm BST  --  Report as abuse
mgb500 wrote:
Why should the UK tax-payer pay out good money to a bunch of scrounging layabouts, who only make their way here as there’s free money on offer?????

Well, Camoron? If you, B’Liar & Brown had any balls we would not be i this position – so what are/were you getting paid for =’cos it aint for doing your job of looking after the interests of us peasants in the UK!! Is that because we don’t frequent the Bullingdon Club???

May 30, 2013 2:36pm BST  --  Report as abuse
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