European legal battle looms over immigration benefits test

By staff

Britain is being taken to court over an extra test it imposes on migrant benefit claimants.

The European Commission is mounting legal action over an additional test imposed on EU citizens which Brussels officials believes undermines their 'right to reside' in the UK.

The extra test, which is applied on top of the EU's standard test for welfare eligibility, was described as a "vital and fair tool" by a government spokesman.

Government officials are insisting the UK believes its procedures do not transgress European law.

But an announcement is expected later that the UK is being taken to court in Luxembourg in an 'infraction' procedure over the issue.

Peter Lilley, the former Cabinet minister, said the European Commission's move was an example of its efforts "trying to extend its power".

"It does strengthen the hand of David Cameron trying to get powers back," he told the Today programme.

"I hope very much we in concert with other countries who reject the EU's creeping competences will roll it back again."

Adam Weiss, the legal director of the Advice on Individual Rights in Europe Centre, told the same programme the UK would have to abandon the additional test if it wanted to remain in the EU, however.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "If the Commission decides to begin legal proceedings, we will fight vigorously to ensure that our benefit system is protected from abuse by migrants."

The government is receiving strong support from the opposition benches, which scrambled to point out Labour has called on ministers to strengthen rather than weaken the residence test.

"The EU Commission are wrong to try to prevent member states having sensible checks like this as it will increase public concerns about migration and give member states an incentive to cut employment support for everyone, which is against everyone's interests in Britain and across Europe," shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said.

"This is an area where we have called for European reform. The prime minister now needs to show he can win support from other member states to deliver practical improvements as well as resisting the Commission's wrongheaded action on the residence test."