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The rules on eligibility for benefits for people coming to the UK from abroad are one of the most complex areas of welfare rights law. Whether or not a person can claim benefits and, if so, which benefits, may depend on a number of factors. These include nationality, immigration status (and any conditions attached to it), the circumstances under which the person arrived in the UK, whether they are deemed ‘habitually resident’, whether they are in work or looking for work, and whether they arrived alone or with other family members. Many other factors may be relevant.

This briefing gives a broad overview of the rules on access to benefits for people coming to the UK from abroad. It describes the situation for three groups:

  • Asylum seekers and refugees
  • Nationals from countries which are not part of the European Economic Area (EEA)
  • EEA nationals – including how the rules on eligibility for benefits are changing following the UK’s exit from the European Union

It is not intended to be a definitive statement on who can claim what, but rather to indicate in broad terms the factors which can determine what people in each of the three categories may be able to claim.  

Links are included to further Library briefings which give more detailed information, and to other resources. This is however a very complex area of the law. It is important that individuals who are uncertain about what they are entitled to seek specialist advice before making a claim for any benefit. For some people, a claim for benefits may mean that they are in breach of immigration conditions and could result in their removal, a refusal of further leave and/or prosecution.

Documents to download

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