David Cameron's EU renegotiation could mean young British adults losing key benefits

Plans to restrict EU migrants' access to in-work benefits for a minimum of four years could be applied to British claimants too after warnings from lawyers

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Indy Politics

Young British adults could miss out on access to benefits as a consequence of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation, according to reports.

The Prime Minister has made EU migrants’ access to in-work benefits a cornerstone of his bid to reform Britain’s relationship with the 28-state bloc.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to stop EU migrants from claiming tax credits and child benefit until they have lived in the UK for a minimum of four years.

But with lawyers warning that cutting benefits from EU migrants without placing the same restrictions on British claimants could be illegal under EU law, the BBC has reported that ministers are considering plans to extend the restrictions to native UK citizens too, meaning all those under the age of 22 would be unable to receive the in-work benefits.

Young British adults were already hit hard by George Osborne's Summer Budget

Applying the restrictions only to EU migrants would require treaty change, lawyers advised, but that would require the agreement of all 28 EU nations, which would prove highly unlikely due to strong opposition from eastern European countries such as Poland, as well as reservations from powerful countries such as France.

A document written by government lawyers sent to government ministers, seen by the BBC, reads: “Imposing additional requirements on EU workers that do not apply to a member state's own workers constitutes direct discrimination which is prohibited under current EU law."

It says restricting EU migrants’ access to benefits could be made using secondary legislation but warned the legal arguments for doing so would be “extremely weak”.

Applying the restrictions to British adults under the age of 22 would risk causing further anger among an age group that has already been hit hard by George Osborne’s post-election budget.

The Chancellor stripped housing benefit, restricted access to Jobseekers’ Alliance, opened the way for further increases in tuition fees, ditched maintenance grants for disadvantaged students and did not make the new national living wage applicable to those under the age of 25.

Labour accused the Government of being forced to hatch the plan on the back of a failed renegotiation strategy.

Stephen Timms, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "We support restrictions on benefits for EU migrants. But the Government would find it hard to justify removing support from ordinary UK citizens simply because they have failed to deliver what they promised in their EU renegotiation."

Meanwhile Paul Noblet from the homelessness charity Centrepoint, warned that a further move to restrict housing benefit from young adults could put thousands more youngsters on the streets.

“We fear that removing in-work benefits could have a catastrophic impact on people whose financial situation is already precarious," he said. "Around 83,000 young people already experience homelessness in the UK each year. Cutting Housing Benefit could force thousands of young people on to the streets - many young people simply do not have a family home to go back to.  

“Times have rarely been tougher for young people. We urge the Government to clarify their position and put an end to the further unnecessary anxiety this speculation will cause.”