Cameron to limit EU migrants’ rights to housing and benefits

25 Mar 13
Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced plans to restrict migrants’ rights to council housing and welfare benefits.

By Richard Johnstone | 25 March 2013

Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced plans to restrict migrants’ rights to council housing and welfare benefits.

Prime Minister David Cameron has today announced restrictions on migrants’ rights to council housing to ensure ‘everyone who comes here pays their way'. Photo: Shutterstock

Under the changes, only people who have lived in the UK for at least two years would qualify for housing. At the same time, individuals from the European Union, and the wider European Economic Area, would have their benefits halted from 2014 if they had not found a job within six months of arriving in the UK and don’t have a ‘genuine chance of finding work’.

Currently, there is no limit on how long migrants from the EEA – which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway as well as EU member states – can claim unemployment benefits while looking for a job.

In his speech, Cameron also called on other European Union countries to reimburse the NHS for treatment that their nationals receive when living in the UK.

Britain was seen as a ‘soft touch’ under the last Labour government, he said, and new measures are needed to ensure ‘everyone who comes here pays their way and gives something back’.

‘Ending the something-for-nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare. We’re going to give migrants from the EEA a very clear message. Just like British citizens, there is no absolute right to unemployment benefit.’

Councils can currently set housing eligibility criteria based on residency rules, but it is estimated that around half chose not to do so.

Cameron has proposed that town halls put in place a blanket ban on immigrants being placed on council housing waiting lists for at least two years.

However, the Local Government Association said councils themselves should decide how to meet housing need.

Mike Jones, the chair of the LGA's environment and housing board, said: ‘Local authorities have their own policies in place for managing applications for housing which are based on the pressures facing the local community and many councils already seek to prioritise people with a local connection.’

Labour said that it was right that councils were able to set their own criteria. Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said it was vital that Cameron’s changes ‘don't end up messing this up’.

He added: ‘But the test of the prime minister's speech is not whether he can make overblown promises or ramp up the rhetoric. It is whether he can stop this government's growing list of practical failings in the immigration system – especially on enforcement and illegal immigration.

‘The number of people refused entry to the UK has dropped by 50%, the number of people absconding through Heathrow passport control has trebled, the number of illegal immigrants deported has gone down, the number of foreign prisoners removed has gone down and the number of businesses fined for employing illegal workers has gone down.’

• Also today, the home affairs select committee has said the UK Border Agency is ‘plagued’ by a backlog of immigration cases.

Examining the work of the agency, the committee said it had ‘repeatedly supplied’ incorrect information about the size of the asylum backlog over six years.

Four new delays to immigration claims were discovered in the third quarter of 2012, which took the total number of cases in this backlog to 312,726. This is a decline of just 4% from the previous quarter.

MPs specifically criticised Lin Homer, who had been in charge of the agency between August 2005 and January 2010 and is now the chief executive of Revenue & Customs.

Homer had ‘repeatedly misled the committee over the size of the asylum backlog and still refuses to take responsibility for her failings’.

The committee concluded they had ‘little confidence’ in her ability to run any government department, and her appointment to HMRC highlighted ‘the need for Parliament to have a stronger role in the appointment of top civil servants’.

In a letter to committee chair Keith Vaz, Homer said that ‘the suggestion that I deliberately misled the committee and refused to apologise are both untrue and unfair’.

She added that, as the committee had specifically examined the period from July to September last year, it was ‘wholly inaccurate and unfair’ to ascribe responsibility to her for the new backlogs.

Responding to the report, immigration minister Mark Harper said: ‘We have always been clear that the UK Border Agency was a troubled organisation with a poor record of delivery. Turning it around will take time but I am determined to provide the public with an immigration system they can have confidence in.’

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