In a landmark case, the UK Court of Appeal has ruled that EU citizens with pre-settled status can access welfare benefits on an equal basis with other claimants.
The test case was brought on behalf of two Romanian nationals, Ms Fratila and Mr Tanase who came to the UK in 2014 and 2019 respectively.
In 2019, Mr Tanase, who is severely disabled and Mr Fratila, his carer, were granted pre-settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme but refused access to universal credit, a means-tested benefit to which they were entitled.
The Court ruled that Ms Fratila and Mr Tanase had been unlawfully discriminated against on the grounds of their nationality, breaching EU law.
The case was brought by child poverty action group, a UK based NGO working on behalf of the one in four children in the UK who grow up in poverty.
Responding to the news, CPAG’s Welfare Rights Adviser Martin Williams said: “The judgment will bring justice and protection to thousands of EU citizens who have made Britain their home whilst the UK was still part of the EU, or during the transition period, and are on the path to settled status in the UK”.
“The coronavirus pandemic has graphically illustrated how anyone can suddenly find they need help. We have seen EU citizens and their children left destitute by this discriminatory rule, through no fault of their own.”
Commenting on the case, Tamara Flanagan OBE, Head of Projects of New Europeans UK said: “Congratulations and thanks to CPAG for bringing this case. There are over 1.8m EU citizens in the UK with pre-settled status (40% of the total), and this is a very welcome breakthrough for many of the most vulnerable communities we work with in the UK.”
The UK government may still try to overturn the judgement by going to the Supreme Court and there will be no change in rules until 21 February. In the meantime, Colin Yeo, a barrister, said,
“Anyone who has not claimed because they thought their pre-settled status would not make them eligible should seek advice on whether they should now do so.”
Commenting further, Roger Casale, founder and Executive director of New Europeans said: “Until this case was heard, EU citizens with pre-settled status would have had no idea what would happen to them if they lost their job or fell into destitution.”
“The Home Office says its wants to reassure all EU citizens in the UK, but the Department of Work and Pensions clearly thinks it can still deny some EU citizens access to services and benefits.”
“We know from our own research that it is often the most vulnerable who are least able to cope with the new digital status and the least likely to appeal or go to court when the system fails them. Government needs to do better.”
“Specifically, central Government needs to improve cross-departmental co-ordination and issue clearer guidance. It must get cases right first time.”
Free movement comes to an end in the UK on 31 December, and EU citizens resident in the UK have a six month grace period to secure their status.