Open Europe Blog

The Government has today announced the details of the “minimum earnings threshold” that will be applied from 1 March to EU migrants seeking to claim certain benefits in the UK. The plan was first outlined in David Cameron’s FT article last year, and the DWP has today revealed the details.

Under the new system, EU migrants will have to demonstrate they have earned around £150 a week – the level at which employees pay National Insurance contributions – for three months in order to qualify for “worker” status, which opens the door to certain benefit entitlements. Jobseeker’s will need to wait three months before getting income-based jobseeker’s allowance and, after the introduction of new rules on April 1, they will be ineligible for housing benefit. Those deemed not economically active would need earnings above income support levels and comprehensive sickness insurance, to be eligible to claim child benefit or child tax credit.

In our briefing following David Cameron’s article in November 2013, we noted that the proposal for an earnings threshold had the potential to intensify the legal stand-off between the Government and the European Commission over the rules on access to benefits.

The Telegraph today quotes a Commission spokesman as saying:

The Court of Justice’s case law makes clear that part-time workers, trainees and au pairs can be classified as ‘workers’, provided their activity has an economic value and is genuine and effective. This case-law makes clear that a definition of a worker according to the amount he or she earns is not compatible with EU law.

This is only an initial reaction and the Commission cannot take further action until it has reviewed the proposals. But, as we understand it, the Government will argue that it is not illegal because the threshold simply acts as an ‘alarm bell’ at which point claimants will face a fuller assessment of whether their work is “genuine and effective”, with the possibility of being denied worker status.

This extra step means that the threshold is not an automatic criteria and should therefore fulfil the EU requirement that each applicant be assessed on their individual case.

What the Commission will make of this argument we cannot say but, as we have argued before, rather than the constant battling between the Commission and member states on this issue (it’s not just the UK), the rules on access to welfare need proper reform, with a much stronger link between access to welfare and an economic contribution to the host country.

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