The Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill 2015-16 is a Private Members’ Bill presented by Christopher Chope. The Bill, which at the time of writing has not yet been published, would “make provision to restrict the entitlement of non-UK Citizens from the European Union and the European Economic Area to taxpayer-funded benefits.” The Bill had its First Reading on 6 July 2015 and is due to have Second Reading on 5 February 2016.

Previous Bills

A previous Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill, with the same long title, was presented by Mr Chope in the 2014-15 Session (Bill 47 of Session 2014-15). The Bill provided for restrictions on entitlement “notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972.” It received First Reading on 7 July 2014 but had made no further progress by the time Parliament was prorogued for the 2015 General Election.

A similar, though not identical, Bill (Bill 62 of Session 2013-14) had been introduced by Mr Chope in the previous Session, which was supported by the same group of MPs. It was one of around 40 bills tabled together in June 2013 by a group of Conservative Members which together, it was reported, were intended to form an “Alternative Queen’s Speech.” The Second Reading debate was on 17 January 2014. The then DWP Minister, Mike Penning, said that the Government could not support the Bill as it would breach EU law. The Bill was defeated by 30 votes to 5 at Second Reading.

For further information on the 2013-14 and 2014.15 Bills see Commons Library briefing, Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill 2014-15.

Renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU

In his speech on immigration delivered on 28 November 2014, the Prime Minister set out plans to secure agreement on changes to EU law on freedom of movement. In relation to benefits, Mr Cameron said that if he were Prime Minister after the election he would insist that:

  • EU migrants would be denied in-work benefits until they had been in the UK for four years: “in the future those who want to claim tax credits and child benefit must live here and contribute to our country for a minimum of four years.”
  • Child benefits would no longer be payable for children of EU migrants not living in the UK: “If their child is living abroad, then there should be no child benefit or child tax credit at all no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid.”

In a letter to the Members of the European Council on 2 February 2016, the Council’s President, Donald Tusk, set out details of a draft Decision for a “new settlement for the United Kingdom in the European Union.” The letter states that “clear objective is to have an agreement of all 28 [Member States] at the February European Council.”

The draft Decision includes, among other things, an undertaking by the Commission to propose changes to EU legislation regarding the export of child benefits, and a new “alert and safeguard mechanism” to allow Member States to respond to “exceptional” situations of inflow of workers from other Member States. Details are given in paragraph 2 of Section D of the draft Decision:

…following the taking effect of this Decision, the Commission will submit proposals for amending existing EU secondary legislation as follows:

(a) a proposal to amend Regulation 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems in order to give Member States, with regard to the exportation of child benefits to a Member State other than that where the worker resides, an option to index such benefits to the standard of living in the Member State where the child resides;

(b) in order to take account of a pull factor arising from a Member State’s in-work benefits regime, a proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union which will provide for an alert and safeguard mechanism that responds to situations of inflow of workers from other Member States of an exceptional magnitude over an extended period of time. A Member State wishing to avail itself of the mechanism would notify the Commission and the Council that such an exceptional situation exists on a scale that affects essential aspects of its social security system, including the primary purpose of its in-work benefits system, or which leads to difficulties which are serious and liable to persist in its employment market or are putting an excessive pressure on the proper functioning of its public services. On a proposal from the Commission having examined the notification, the Council could, by means of an implementing act, authorise the Member State concerned to restrict access to in-work welfare benefits to the extent necessary. The implementing act would authorise the Member State to limit the access of Union workers newly entering its labour market to in-work benefits for a total period of up to four years from the commencement of employment. The limitation should be graduated, from an initial complete exclusion but gradually increasing access to such benefits to take account of the growing connection of the worker with the labour market of the host Member State. The Council implementing act would have a limited duration and apply to EU workers newly entering its labour market during a period of [X] years, extendable for two successive periods of [Y] years and [Z] years.

A related Draft Declaration of the European Commission on the Safeguard Mechanism referred to in paragraph 2(b) states:

…the European Commission will table a proposal to amend Regulation 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union to provide for a safeguard mechanism with the understanding that it can and will be used and therefore will act as a solution to the United Kingdom’s concerns about the exceptional inflow of workers from elsewhere in the European Union that it has seen over the last years.

The European Commission considers that the kind of information provided to it by the United Kingdom shows the type of exceptional situation that the proposed safeguard mechanism is intended to cover exists in the United Kingdom today. Accordingly, the United Kingdom would be justified in triggering the mechanism in the full expectation of obtaining approval.

Relevant Commons Library Briefings

Further information on the current rules on EU migrants’ access to benefits, on changes to the rules since 2013, and on further proposals for reform can be found in the following Library briefings: