European court judgment tightens up on expat welfare benefits

Published:  11 Mar at 6 PM
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A recent ruling handed down from Europe’s highest court confirms that citizens of any one EU member state who emigrate to another state will be denied social welfare benefits for a period of three months after arrival.

According to the European Court of Justice, the ruling covers a three month right-to-reside period after expat arrivals have entered with only a passport or valid ID card as identification. Member states have no means of telling whether new arrivals are able to support themselves or pay for medical treatment. The court ruling reinforces the EU’s Citizenship Directive, which states that EU member states can refuse any social assistance to immigrants for a three month period after arrival.

At the same time, the UK government has reduced to six months the one-year exemption giving free healthcare to Australian and New Zealand expats arriving to live and work in Britain. Introduced last year, the Immigration Health Surcharge of £200 allowed a year’s free NHS service on arrival in the UK to citizens of all European Economic Area states as well as to expats from Australia and New Zealand. From April 6 this year, Australian and New Zealand immigrants newly resident in the UK will be granted only six months’ free treatment before they must pay the annual charge.

According to UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, the decision will help allow the NHS to remain sustainable, adding that the reduction in the free healthcare period will ensure a fair contribution from temporary immigrants. The new rule means that those expats affected will now contribute to their healthcare costs in the same manner as non-EEA expats, said Brokenshire.
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