A landmark ruling allows migrants to claim benefits in Britain for their children living in their home country

Express
24.03.2010
By Donna Bowater

FOREIGN BENEFITS SCANDAL

A LANDMARK ruling that allows jobless migrants to claim benefits in Britain for their children living in their home country sparked outrage last night.

Critics warned the judgment could “open the door” to thousands of benefits tourists abusing generous payouts in Britain.

In yesterday”s High Court ruling ” showing how EU law is taking precedence over the UK”s ” a Portuguese national living in Britain won a legal battle for child benefit for his two daughters in his home country despite no longer working and claiming incapacity benefit here.

Jose Lopes Ruas, who arrived from Portugal in 2000 with his wife and youngest daughter, was refused child benefit in 2006 for his two eldest daughters then 18 and 14.

At the time, he was also claiming disability allowance and income support after an accident in a factory in 2004.

But after a lengthy court battle, three top judges blocked an appeal by HM Revenue and Customs to prove he was not eligible for the money. Lawyers for Mr Ruas argued EU rules allowed any worker from an EU country who was employed or who received “social assistance” to claim child benefits even if the child lives abroad.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers” Alliance, said: “This opens the door to a huge bill for taxpayers which is utterly unjustified.

“Now there are even greater incentives for people to come to Britain trying to take advantage of the benefits system. Time and again it seems these judgments go against the best interests of hard-pressed British taxpayers.”

The Government has previously faced criticism for paying out benefits to 50,000 children who live abroad while their parents work in the UK, costing “24million a year.

That allows children in countries including Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to receive benefits from British taxpayers. The handouts have been described as a “kick in the teeth” to hard-working Britons who are subsidising them.

The loophole in EU legislation goes against UK law, which states: “No child benefit shall be payable in respect of a child for a week unless he is in Great Britain in that week.”

Jason Coppel, barrister acting for HMRC, said Mr Ruas”s claim for child benefit should fail because he “cannot be identified under the scheme as an employed person because he is not currently…an employed earner.”

But in a judgment handed down by Lord Justice Carnwath, Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Lord Justice Etherton at the Court of Appeal, the judges referred to the European Commission regulations and said: “Article 74 provides a right to family benefits in the member state in which the claimant is claiming unemployment benefit, regardless of whether the claimant or members of his family are present in that state.”

But Gerard Batten, UKIP MEP for London warned more EU nationals would come to the UK, which ranks as one of the highest paying countries in Europe for child benefit.

In a comparison of 22 countries by the Department for Work and Pensions, Portugal was described as a “laggard” in child benefit packages.

Mr Batten said: “We were already paying child benefit for children living abroad, and now EU citizens themselves on benefits in the UK can claim child benefit for children they left at home.

“We already provide an international health service that treats people from all over the world, and now we will provide an international benefits service. Many EU citizens will naturally gravitate to those countries with the most generous benefits systems ” especially Britain. How can a country that is “1.5trillion in debt pay benefits to the children of non-citizens who live abroad? It”s completely bonkers.”

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