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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Thousands of EU migrants could be barred from government support in Covid economic crisis, warns IPPR

Think tank calls for ‘flawed’ Habitual Residence Test to be suspended to ensure EU migrants’ access to a social safety net

Large numbers of EU migrants applying for Universal Credit are being rejected on the basis of the government’s ‘Habitual Residence Test’, according to a new report by the IPPR thinktank.

The report finds that, of those claims to Universal Credit requiring a Habitual Residence Test, around 10 per cent have been rejected due to failing the test. In total, around 45,000 claims to Universal Credit were rejected due to the test in the past 12 months of available data – before the significant rise in claims during the pandemic.

IPPR warns that due to the test continuing to be applied throughout the pandemic, thousands of EU migrants may be going without government support and facing unnecessary financial hardship during this challenging time.

The Habitual Residence Test broadly requires claimants to prove that they have a settled home in the United Kingdom and that they have a “right to reside” to gain access to benefits. However, IPPR has identified multiple problems in the operation of the test, including burdensome requests for claimants to collect historic documentation stretching back many years, ‘tick-box’ exercises without full investigations, and poor communication of decisions.

Those facing issues passing the test include EU migrants who are self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts, who often struggle to meet the requirements due to officials not considering their work to be “genuine and effective”. These could include migrants who have been here for several years.

As part of the research, IPPR spoke to people who had not been granted access to Universal Credit, including a self-employed French citizen who had been working in the UK for over 10 years. She had lost all her work due to the pandemic and applied for Universal Credit but was then rejected without being provided any clear grounds.

The report calls for the Habitual Residence Test to be suspended for the duration of the immediate economic crisis to ensure no one is left without government support during this unprecedented and uncertain time. IPPR also sets out a series of recommendations to improve the system in the long-term. These include:

  • Support - Ensuring that DWP provides additional support to vulnerable claimants to help with evidence-gathering for the Habitual Residence Test.
  • Clarity - Providing clear reasons for why an application has been rejected in decision letters to claimants.
  • Fairness - Fast-tracking appeals on Habitual Residence Test decisions through the tribunal process.

Marley Morris, Associate Director for Immigration at IPPR, said:

“EU citizens are at the sharp-end of this crisis – with many working in vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and retail and at serious risk of redundancy. Yet the government’s flawed ‘Habitual Residence Test’ risks barring many from accessing Universal Credit, leaving them with no safety net as the economic crisis unfolds.

“The Prime Minister has praised the contribution of EU citizens and just last month said to those who had left since the lockdown that ‘we want you back’. Now he can make good on these words.

“Suspending the test for the duration of the immediate economic crisis would cut bureaucracy at DWP, relieve the pressures on councils, and provide a lifeline for EU citizens who have made the UK their home.”

Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said:

“Over three million people have claimed Universal Credit since the beginning of March, because their work has stopped and they are not eligible for one of the government schemes. But a surprisingly large number of people – who expected to be entitled to help – have been refused it. One of the reasons has been failing the Habitual Residence Test. 

“I welcome this research, which shines an invaluable light on this little known and poorly defined feature of the benefit system. I hope the research will strengthen the case to reform it.”


CASE STUDY: French citizen whose Universal Credit application was declined

A French citizen working in the creative industries who has lived in the UK for more than 10 years. She was self-employed until she lost her work due to the pandemic in March. After applying for Universal Credit, she was called by the jobcentre and asked a series of questions about her work history in order to determine whether she passed the test. She was asked to collect documentation on her income stretching back to 2009. She was then told she had failed the test without explanation:

“I was not even aware that it was called the habitual residence test, until I received the outcome and I was told that I failed it. I had no idea what was going on and it wasn’t clear what they were looking for.”

During the phone interview, the jobcentre indicated that her income may have been too low to be considered “genuine”, but she was not given a clear explanation of what this meant:

“When I explained to her [at the jobcentre] why my income was low, and I explained to her the process of having new clients and everything, she understood, but then she said to me, ‘because you’re an EU national you need to prove that you were in genuine employment’. But what does it mean? I mean, I was working.”

Failing the test had significant implications for her finances and mental health. In her own words:

“I didn’t sleep for a few nights... I was having panic attacks so I had to be on medication for a few days... I thought if the worst comes to the worst I will ask help from friends or family. But it just felt like in normal times it would have been very difficult, but considering the context [of the coronavirus outbreak] I could not even imagine that they would make this kind of decision without any real reason.”


  1. The IPPR paper, Testing Times: Universal Credit and the Habitual Residence Test by Henry Parkes and Marley Morris, will be published on Thursday 9 July 2020. It will be available for download at:
  2. Advance copies of the report are available under embargo on request
  3. Case study contact available on request
  4. The Habitual Residence Test is a test for accessing benefits such as Universal Credit in the UK. It applies to EU citizens, as well as some non-EU citizens with access to public funds and UK citizens returning from abroad. For EU citizens, there are generally two parts of the test: proving actual ‘habitual residence’ and proving a ‘right to reside’ in the UK.
  5. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence.