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EU taking UK to court over migrants’ benefits test

EU taking UK to court over migrants’ benefits test
The European Commission is launching legal action against the UK, which it believes discriminates against EU citizens by making them pass an additional test to prove their rights to benefits. The UK says it will fight to keep the extra test.

The UK’s so-called ‘right to reside’ test is discriminatory to EU citizens, leading to thousands being denied benefits, such as a child tax credit and jobseeker's allowance, according to European Commission, which is taking the case to the  European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The EC believes the standard EU test to tell if a migrant is eligible for welfare payments is enough and any extra testing is an infringement on EU citizens’ rights.

"We are asking the UK to change its resident permit test because it is a discrimination against other EU citizens in our open internal market," said an EU source cited by Reuters.

It’s not the first time the UK has been criticized for its ‘right to reside’ test. Britain was already told to put an end to the practice in 2011. However, it did not give up on the extra testing then and it now promises to fight for it.

"The right-to-reside part of our habitual residence test is a vital and fair tool to ensure that benefits are only paid to people who are legally allowed to live in Britain. We have always been clear that we believe our rules are in line with EU law. If the commission decides to begin legal proceedings, we will fight vigorously to ensure that our benefit system is protected from abuse by migrants," said spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions, as cited by the Guardian.

Peter Lilley, the Conservative MP and former minister in charge of social security at the time when the controversial testing was introduced, said in an interview to the BBC that the legal action by the EU is an attempt “to extend their competence into areas where the treaties say they shouldn't be involved.”

The legal battle in Luxembourg looms at a time when debate over leaving the EU is becoming more and more acute in the UK. Prime Minister Cameron promised that if he is reelected in 2015 a referendum would be held on Britain’s membership in the EU not later than 2017.

This year’s Queen’s Speech earlier in May contained a number of new measures aimed at curbing immigration to the UK, especially from poorer EU nations such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Among those is a six-month restriction to the jobseeker’s allowance, which will apply to all EU nationals unable to prove they are actively seeking employment and have a genuine chance of getting work.