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Challenge to benefit rules backed by European Court

* 23 March 2004 *

Challenge to benefit rules backed by European Court

A University of Sussex lecturer says a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling supports his challenge to the government's "habitual residence" test for benefit claimants.

The ECJ today announced a ruling in the case of Collins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, relating to an EU national's disputed application for social security benefits. University of Sussex law lecturer Paul Eden has been involved since 2001, when he represented Collins' case pro bono at the appeal stage.

The case was passed to the ECJ by Social Security Commissioners hearing the appeal. The ECJ was asked to decide whether the United Kingdom habitual residence test, applied as a condition for receiving income-based jobseeker's allowance, was in conformity with EU law.

Mr Eden said: "The habitual residence rule was introduced in 1996 in response to the belief that foreigners were coming to the United Kingdom for the sole purpose of claiming benefits. The alleged problem of benefit tourism has never been supported by any verifiable evidence. The key question before the ECJ was whether the test amounted to indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality and they believe it is."

A press release from the ECJ (see editor's note) said the court observed a difference in treatment depending on whether the person involved is habitually resident in the United Kingdom. The court ruled that the legislation places nationals of other member states at a disadvantage.

Mr Eden said the importance of the ruling is that: "In the ECJ's view it would be legitimate for the United Kingdom to grant a jobseeker's allowance only after it had been established that a genuine link exists between the EU national seeking work and the British employment market. Given the fact that a jobseeker's allowance is only available to those who can prove that they are actively seeking work within the British employment market, it is arguable that the effect of the judgment is that the habitual residence test is now essentially inapplicable to EU nationals."

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