The Governments strategy to placate the populist backlash over so-called “benefit-seeking” Euro-migrants as well as exploiting every opportunity to save money , involves a collection of benefit changes which will be fully implemented by 1 April 2014.
From the beginning of 2014 all new migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) have to wait 3 months before they can claim benefits. After the 3 months are complete, there will be more stringent criteria for passing the Habitual Residency Test (HRT) for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). In addition to answering some searching questions to prove that they plan to stay here for an undefined period , they will have to demonstrate that they are making every effort to secure employment in the UK. An indication of how employable they are will include an assessment of their command of the English language. Needless to say none of these “tests” are clear cut and whether an individual’s fluency in the language is sufficient to gain a job paying more than £150 per week is very subjective and open to wide interpretation.
From 1st April EEA migrants on JSA will no longer be able to get Housing Benefit. This is described in the bluntly titled Press Release from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) “New rules to stop migrants claiming Housing Benefit (HB)”. There are a few exceptions to this policy , particularly if someone has been made redundant, or if they were receiving HB as at 31st March. Although the latter category will be protected from the change, initially, if there is a break in their claim for HB then they will be considered to be “new” for the purposes of the rules and so become ineligible. To add confusion to the understanding of the policy, the DWP Press Office provided an ambiguous version of the rules .They confirmed that this policy will “only apply to new EU migrants” explicitly meaning people who are not yet in this country. This is in conflict with the written document.
There is considerable anecdotal evidence that people are being “sanctioned” from Job Seekers Allowance for a variety of subtle and questionable reasons which is sending them into difficult personal financial situations. Additionally, there are too many stories of people being given Food Bank referrals from the Job Centre when they are sanctioned. These new rules for the HRT and HB will only give the staff at the Job Centre and the Council more opportunities for controversial and apparently arbitrary judgements to save money.
I would suggest that most EEA migrants who are struggling to get a job, have few relevant skills, poor general education, and little knowledge of English, have come here as de facto refugees and consequently are “vulnerable”. These will be the ones who are most likely to fall foul of these rules and will have difficulty challenging any decisions. Whilst I would never support people who have legitimate choices exploiting beneficial arrangements, I would like to think that in our role as a civilised society that we would seek to protect people who genuinely require help. Many people in Derby will fit into this category and so I expect that the demand for the goodwill of the voluntary and charitable sector will be on the rise as their poverty deepens through reduction in benefits.