Restrictions on EEA Migrants’ Access to Benefits
Over the Christmas break the government announced a number of changes affecting EU migrants’ access to benefits. These include:
(i) a new three month residence requirement for jobseeker's allowance (JSA), which applies to British nationals returning from abroad;
(ii) EEA jobseekers who make a new claim for JSA will receive it for a maximum of six months and that, after six months, only those who have compelling evidence that they still have a genuine prospect of work (GPoW) will be able to continue claiming JSA.
According to Touchbase, published by the DWP in January 2013, GPoW assessments will take place from July 2014 and will check whether the claimant still has a genuine prospect of work, or if there is compelling evidence of exceptional circumstances for them to be granted a limited extension to JSA:
Compelling evidence will vary from person to person, but a written job offer with a definite start date, for example, could be considered compelling evidence. Where there is no compelling evidence, JSA payment will stop.'
The January edition of Touchbase is available from gov.uk - click here
See also ‘Government announces limits on EU migrants' benefits access’ on the Guardian website (20 January 2014 - click here
Other changes intended to restrict EEA migrants’ access to benefit which are due to come in over 2014 include:
- introducing a new minimum earnings threshold before benefits such as income support can be claimed (to check whether someone has a job or is self-employed in order to access benefits);
- imposing a 12 month re-entry ban for people who have been removed for not working or for not being self-sufficient;
- ensuring that new EEA jobseekers will be unable to access Housing Benefit.
The DWP Press release ‘Improved benefit test for migrants launched’ is available on gov.uk - click here
£12bn of Further Welfare Cuts Announced
On 6 January 2014, the Chancellor George Osborne has said that, according to current Treasury forecasts, £12bn of further welfare cuts will be needed in the first two years of the next parliament.
The Chancellor's speech on the economy is available from gov.uk - click here
DWP funding for localised social fund replacement schemes to end from April 2015
According to the Guardian on 6 January 2013, DWP funding for localised social fund replacement schemes is to end from April 2015. In addition, a Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman told the Guardian that, from 2015, local welfare is to be funded from local authority general funds.
For more information see ‘Government to stop funding for low-income families facing emergencies’ on the Guardian website - click here.
The Bedroom tax ‘Loophole’
On 9 January 2014, the DWP issued new advice, in HB U1/2014, confirming that some claimants were entitled to transitional protection from the bedroom tax (i.e. those who have been continuously entitled to housing benefit since at least 1 January 1996 and occupied the same dwelling since that date). However, the DWP also advises that it will be 'taking steps to remedy this shortly'.
HB Bulletin U1/2014: Removal of the spare room subsidy is available from gov.uk - click here
On 15 January 2014, responding to a question in the House of Lords, the Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud announced that the housing benefit regulations are to be amended in March 2014 to close the bedroom tax ‘loophole’.
Lord Freud's answer on changes to the housing benefit regulations is available from Hansard - click here.
Government provides figures on short term benefit advances expenditure for April to November 2013
On 14 January 2014, the government provided figures on short term benefit advances monthly expenditure for the period from April to November 2013. Responding to a written question on short term benefit advances and crisis loans expenditure in parliament on 13 January 2014, the Pensions Minister Steve Webb provided figures for expenditure on short term benefit advances and crisis loans, including that £3,287,000 was spent on short term benefit advances in the period from April to November 2013, whilst £72,799,600 was spent on crisis loans in the same period of the previous year.
The Minister cautioned that unlike crisis loans, short term benefit advances are not loans from a separate fund but are advances against future benefit payment in certain specific circumstances, and that it was “impossible” to directly compare these advances to crisis loans.
Mr Webb's written answer is available from Hansard - click here.
GJ v Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (TC)  UKUT 561 (AAC) (Judge Wikeley) held that when applying the legal test on whether the child was ‘normally living with’ the claimant for the purposes of Child Tax Credit (Child Tax Credit Regulations 2002 (SI 2002/2007) reg 3, rule 1), a tribunal had been wrong to apply the statutory test on the basis of the wording of a residence order, rather than the actual living arrangements. Judge Wikeley said that the application of the ‘normally living with test’ is ultimately a question of fact. It cannot be conclusively determined by the wording of a court order; what matters is what is actually happening 'on the ground' (para 19). Click here for judgment
In AP v Secretary of State (ESA)  UKUT 553 (AAC) (Judge Mark) it was held that it was the duty of the Secretary of State to provide information about the work-related activity the claimant was expected to undertake. The claimant suffered from mental health problems including agoraphobia and anxiety which was heightened when coping with change and meeting people. She did not score any points under the limited capability for work assessment and so the issue before the tribunal, was whether there would be a ‘substantial risk’ to her health if she were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity (Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2008 (SI 2008794), reg 35). There was no evidence before the tribunal about the work-related activity the claimant was expected to undertake. Notwithstanding this, the tribunal decided on the papers. Allowing the appeal Judge Mark held that in the light of the claimant’s mental health problems, this was clearly a case where proper evidence about work-related activity should have been provided by the Secretary of State. The tribunal erred in law by basing its decision on assumptions. Click here for the judgment.