Ministers refuse to reveal number of EU workers in the UK

HMRC admits information is available but will not be published because it could interfere with EU reform talks

Ministers are refusing to reveal exactly how many European citizens are working in the UK – despite suggestions that the information is available.

The Government has traditionally used data from the Labour Force survey to estimate how many EU nationals are working in Britain from which it has extrapolated how many are claiming benefits.

But many have questioned the accuracy of the official data, given that it is based on annual survey returns rather than actual data on tax returns and benefit claims.

In an attempt to get more reliable information, Jonathan Portes, the principal research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, asked the Department of Work and Pensions and HMRC to provide him with information on how many National Insurance numbers issued to recent migrants were “active and showed recent payments of tax or National Insurance, or benefit claims”.

Extraordinarily, HMRC admitted that while the information was available, it had not been published and would not be published because it could interfere with David Cameron’s EU talks. In their response to Mr Portes, they wrote: “Releasing information in the form requested would, at this stage, be unhelpful to the negotiation process.”

Mr Portes said he expected the data would show there was actually “considerably more recent migrants than the official immigration or labour market statistics suggest”.

“When the Government has in its possession information on a topic of considerable public interest and refuses to release it, it feeds paranoia and mistrust in official statistics,” he said.

However, an HMRC spokesperson said: “It was wrong to suggest information was withheld because of the EU renegotiation... The information that is held is not in a collated, publishable form. HMRC will release that data when it is properly collated early in the new year.”

The chief inspector of borders and immigration, David Bolt, revealed that around 10,000 asylum-seekers have dropped off the immigration authorities’ radar and efforts to trace them are seen as a “drain on resources”.

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