The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that EU member states may exclude EU citizens who go to another EU country to find work from certain non-contributory social security benefits.
The case focused on benefit entitlement in Germany. EU nationals who travel to Germany to obtain social security – or whose right of residence arises solely out of a search for employment – are not entitled to certain benefits in Germany. In a recent case, the court ruled that this was lawful if an EU national travels to another EU country with no intention of finding employment there.
The court was considering whether the exclusion would also be lawful if an EU citizen goes to a member state to search for employment – and has already worked for a period in that country, where benefits are granted to nationals who are in the same unemployment situation.
The court considered the case of a Swedish national born in Bosnia. She had worked in Germany for a period of time, but had lost her job and had applied for social assistance.
The ECJ ruled that Germany was not acting unlawfully in denying entitlement to certain special non-contributory cash benefits in cases where a citizen’s right of residence in an EU country arose solely out of searching for employment.
Germany had stopped benefits paid to the claimant Nazifa Alimanovic and her daughter in 2012 and had paid child support two other children. All the children had been born in Germany – but the family had returned from Sweden in 2010 and the mother and daughter had worked for less than a year before claiming.
The court noted that the benefits at issue are paid through tax revenue and not contributions. The court added that an EU citizen can claim equal treatment with nationals of another member state only if their residence in the country complies with the conditions of the Free Movement of Citizens Directive.
In the case being considered, the court said there were two possibilities for the purposes of granting a right of residence to jobseekers.
Firstly, an EU citizen who has worked and become involuntarily unemployed after less than a year retains the status of a worker and the right of residence for no less than six months if they have registered as a jobseeker. During that period, the unemployed worker should be treated equally and is entitled to social assistance.
Secondly, where an EU citizen has not yet worked in the country –
or where the period of six months has elapsed – a jobseeker cannot be expelled from the member state for as long as they can provide evidence that they are continuing to seek employment, and that they have a genuine chance of getting a job. However, in these circumstances, a worker may not be entitled to receive social assistance, the court said.
However, a member state must take into account the individual situation of the worker before removing them or deciding that they are placing an unreasonable burden on the benefits system.
The court added that under current regulations, the issue of whether payment of social security benefits constitutes an “unreasonable burden” for a member state should be assessed after accumulating all the individual claims submitted.
In the UK, David Cameron has tightened up the regulations on EU migrants accessing out-of-work benefits, after concerns that new migrants would be able to claim benefits as soon as they arrived in the UK.
The ECJ ruling will apply to all member states.
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