This morning, Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, announced that European migrants coming to the UK will have to show they are earning at least £150 a week for three months before they can access a range of benefits. Iain Duncan Smith has decided that from March, all EU migrants will have to reach this threshold in order to qualify for “worker” status, supposedly in line with HMRC’s definition of a worker. This comes as the latest in a number of attempts to restrict migrants from EU countries access to benefits. The minimum earning threshold, which was first announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last year, will come into force on 1 March 2014.
UK Government’s Restriction on EU Migrants Access to Benefits
Iain Duncan Smith has stated that from next month, all EU migrants in the UK will have to reach the £150 threshold in order to be eligible for “worker” status. The announcement comes as David Cameron has rejected claims by Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols that the government’s wider welfare reforms are leaving people in “destitution”.
The earnings threshold will be set at the level at which people start paying national insurance: £149 a week in 2013-14, and £153 a week in 2014-15. The £150 threshold is equivalent to working 24 hours a week at the national minimum wage. Anyone with earnings below that threshold will face a fuller assessment of whether their work was “genuine and effective”, with the possibility of being denied worker status. Those individuals who have been defined as workers according to the Department for Work & Pensions rules, will be able to claim child benefit and child tax credit, jobseeker’s allowance if they lose their employment, and housing benefit.
Iain Duncan Smith: Benefits Reforms Ensure ‘Fair System’
Discussing his reasoning behind the reforms, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith stated:
“These reforms will ensure we have a fair system – one which provides support for genuine workers and jobseekers, but does not allow people to come to our country and take advantage of our benefits system. The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system.”
Despite his comments, statistics show that only 2% of people currently claiming jobseeker’s allowance in the UK are EU migrants.
EU Commission: Earning’s Threshold “Illegal” Under EU Law
The European Commission has warned the UK Government that plans to require EU migrants to earn £150 a week for three months before they can claim benefits is almost certainly “not compatible” with the law. The Commission has made it clear that the existing case law of the EU courts suggests the “minimum earnings threshold” is against the law.
Judgements by the European Court of Justice are binding on the Government and the House of Commons with previous rulings that have established the illegality of having rules that only apply to EU migrants and against defining a “worker” by income level.
A spokesperson from the Commission stated:
“EU law, as confirmed by the Court of Justice’s case-law, defines a ‘worker’ as including any person who carries out genuine and effective work for which he or she is paid under the direction of someone else,” said a commission spokesman.
“The Court of Justice’s case law makes clear that part-time workers, trainees and au pairs can be classified as ‘workers’, provided their activity has an economic value and is genuine and effective. This case-law makes clear that a definition of a worker according to the amount he or she earns is not compatible with EU law.”