EU citizens struggle to claim UK benefits during coronavirus pandemic

LONDON — EU nationals rejected for government support after the coronavirus hit say the U.K. government isn’t playing fair.

The coronavirus means an increasing number of EU citizens living in Britain are applying for British benefits for the first time, as many find themselves out of work or with a drastically reduced income. Under the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the European Union as part of the Brexit process, the U.K. government committed to preserving the rights of any EU citizen in Britain when the country left the bloc at the end of January 2020, promising to treat them equally to Brits.

But those who have lived in Britain less than five years — and have been granted pre-settled status under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme — are discovering that they are not automatically entitled to Universal Credit, a means-tested benefit for those out of work or in low-paid jobs. Many are also being rejected despite apparently meeting the criteria, said Maurizzio Rodorigo, managing director at the Italian Advice Centre in Islington, London.

The issue, according to Rodorigo, is the so-called right to reside requirement. This stipulates EU migrants who have lived in the U.K. less than five years must prove they are looking for work, are self-employed, a jobseeker or a student, or have sufficient resources to support themselves and their families.

As of the end of March, nearly 1.3 million Europeans had been granted pre-settled status by the U.K. government and so could be at risk of not qualifying for support during the pandemic. EU nationals with settled status — those who can prove they have been in the U.K.

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