Gap-year students and other people who go abroad for an extended period are being denied jobseeker’s allowance payments for three months after they return, under a new rule brought in to stop welfare tourism from other European Union countries.
A change to the “habitual residence test” was introduced on 1 January when visa restrictions on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria were dropped.
At the time, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said people were “rightly concerned that migrants should contribute to this country, and not be drawn here by the attractiveness of our benefits system”.
However Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, pointed out that the rule-change was also affecting some British people who go overseas for more than three months.
“British-born citizens who have been travelling, doing internships or living abroad temporarily shouldn't be treated in the same way as those coming into our country for the first time,” she told The Guardian.
“Habitual residency rules should be about making sure people who are new arrivals to the UK, and have not yet made any contribution or commitment to this country, do not claim benefits they are not entitled to. British citizens are in a completely different situation, and the government should recognise that.”
Rosie Smith, 24, and her boyfriend Alexi Dimond, 29, from Sheffield, spent six months doing voluntary work in Thailand, then returned to the UK to discover they were not able to claim benefits.
“I thought it was outrageous really. I've contributed tax for the last six years working for the NHS. I think it's ridiculous I'm not entitled to anything,” Mr Dimond said, adding that he was relying on friends for food. Ms Smith has moved in with her parents.
A 25-year-old who returned after a year in the Netherlands studying for a master’s degree in psychology was also refused jobseeker’s allowance.
“I think if you're looking for work you should get jobseeker's allowance. That's what makes sense,“ the man said. He is living with his parents and using savings to travel for job interviews. He said the rule was unfair on those “who don't have that support”.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said people who had paid “enough” National Insurance did not have to wait three months, but did not respond when asked by The Guardian how much was required.
“It has always been the case that any UK national who chooses to live or work in another country for an extended period must, if they return to the UK and want to claim benefits, satisfy the habitual residence test by proving they have strong ties to the country and want to remain here,” the spokesman said.