Large numbers of EU migrants are being rejected for universal credit during the coronavirus pandemic due to a “flawed” and “little-known” residency test, a leftwing thinktank has warned.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said about 45,000 claims for universal credit were rejected due to the “habitual residence” test in the past 12 months – before a significant rise in claims during the Covid-19 crisis.
The test broadly requires claimants to prove that they have a settled home in the UK and have a “right to reside” to gain access to benefits.
But the IPPR warns there are multiple problems in the operation of the test, including burdensome requests for claimants to collect historical documentation stretching back years, “tick-box” exercises without full investigations, and poor communication of decisions.
The thinktank has called for the test to be suspended for the duration of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.
Marley Morris, associate director for immigration, trade and EU relations at IPPR, said:“EU citizens are at the sharp end of this crisis – with many working in vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and retail and at serious risk of redundancy. Yet the government’s flawed habitual residence test risks barring many from accessing universal credit, leaving them with no safety net as the economic crisis unfolds.
“The prime minister has praised the contribution of EU citizens and just last month said to those who had left since the lockdown that ‘we want you back’. Now he can make good on these words.
“Suspending the test for the duration of the immediate economic crisis would cut bureaucracy at Department for Work and Pensions, relieve the pressures on councils, and provide a lifeline for EU citizens who have made the UK their home.”
Those having problems with the test include EU migrants who are self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts, who often struggle to meet the requirements due to officials not considering their work to be “genuine and effective”, the IPPR said, including migrants who have been here for several years.
The thinktank has called for the DWP to provide additional support to vulnerable claimants to help with evidence gathering for the test, clear reasons why an application has been rejected in decision letters to claimants, and to fast-track appeals against habitual residence test decisions through the tribunal process.
A DWP spokesperson said: “This government is committed to supporting people affected by Covid-19 and has implemented an enormous package of measures to do so such as income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional security for renters – which are all open to those with no recourse to public funds – as well as injecting over £6.5bn into the welfare system.
“EU citizens who are exercising a qualifying right to reside and are habitually resident in the UK will pass the habitual residence test and can access income-related benefits. EU nationals can also apply to the Home Office EU settlement scheme to prove their right to reside.”