European immigrants who fail to hold down a £150-a-week job for at least three months could be barred from receiving a range of benefits, the Government announced last night.
They would need to reach this threshold to qualify for “worker” status, entitling them to child benefit, child tax credit, housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance if they lose their job.
The move is part of a package of measures designed to deter “benefit tourism” from Romania and Bulgaria following the lifting last month of transitional controls on workers from the two countries.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These reforms will ensure we have a fair system - one which provides support for genuine workers and jobseekers, but does not allow people to come to our country and take advantage of our benefits system.
“The British public are rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said current European Union law meant the “worker” category was too broad and potentially open to some who did very little work.
The earnings threshold will be set at the level at which people start paying national insurance, £149 a week in 2013/14, rising to £153 in 2014/15.
Anyone earning below that threshold will face a fuller assessment of whether their work was “genuine and effective” to be granted worker status.
Jobseekers will need to wait three months before getting income-based jobseeker’s allowance and from 1 April will be ineligible for housing benefit.