Access to means-tested benefits for EU citizens with pre-settled status | CPAG

Access to means-tested benefits for EU citizens with pre-settled status

Date: 
18 December 2020
Issue: 
Fratila and Tanase v SSWP & AIRE Centre [2020] EWHC 998 (Admin); Fratila and Tanase v SSWP & AIRE Centre [2020] EWCA Civ 1741

Fratila and Tanase v SSWP & AIRE Centre [2020] EWHC 998 (Admin); Fratila and Tanase v SSWP & AIRE Centre [2020] EWCA Civ 1741

Current status: Court of Appeal judgment handed down 18 December 2020. Read the Court of Appeal judgment. Secretary of State granted permission to appeal by Supreme Court on 22 February 2021. To be heard in Supreme Court 18 and 19 May 2021. Stay of execution extended until Supreme Court judgment.

OVERVIEW

CPAG brought judicial review proceedings on behalf of two EU nationals, a severely disabled man and his carer, who were refused universal credit on the basis that their limited leave to remain in the UK under Appendix EU to the immigration rules (‘pre-settled status’) was not a qualifying right of residence for the purposes of means-tested benefits.

On 27 April 2020, the High Court dismissed the claim. The Claimants sought permission to appeal and, following the grant of permission by the Court of Appeal, the Court found in favour of the Appellants/Claimants in a judgment handed down on 18 December 2020. 

BACKGROUND

The claimants, Ms Fratila and Mr Tanase are Romanian nationals who came to the UK in 2014 and 2019 respectively. In 2019, each was granted limited leave to remain in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme (also known as ‘pre-settled status’). 

Having obtained pre-settled status, both claimants applied for universal credit but were refused on the grounds that their pre-settled status was not a sufficient right to reside to enable them to access means-tested benefits.

It was argued on behalf of the two claimants that the non-entitlement to benefits, despite having limited leave to remain in the UK with no conditions restricting recourse to public funds, is in breach of the EU right not to be discriminated against on the ground of nationality in comparison with UK nationals, a right which has direct effect. As a result of such unlawfulness, the claimants requested that the Social Security (Income-related Benefits) (Updating and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 are quashed.

LEGAL ISSUES 

 

HIGH COURT

The Divisional Court hearing took place on 18 – 19 February 2020 and judgment was given on 27 April 2020, dismissing the claim and refusing permission to appeal. 

The High Court (Swift J) held that Ms Fratila and Mr Tanase were correct to submit that as EU nationals legally resident in the UK under domestic law (because they had pre-settled status) they could rely upon Article 18 TFEU to protect themselves against unlawful discrimination on the grounds of nationality. However, the Court held that the discriminatory treatment they had suffered was lawful because it was justified. Read the High Court judgment

COURT OF APPEAL 

The Court of Appeal granted an application for permission to appeal against the decision of the High Court on 29 May 2020. The appellants (claimants) application for the case to be expedited was not granted but the hearing took place on 27 – 28 October 2020. Judgment was handed down on 18 December 2020, allowing the appeal. 

CPAG successfully argued that case law has established that EU nationals with a right of residence under domestic law cannot be treated differently to a UK national in relation to access to social security. The Court found unanimously, that under EU law, as it applies in the UK up to the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020, the fact that the UK had granted under its national law a right of residence to Ms Fratila and Mr Tanase means they are entitled to rely on the EU Treaty’s prohibition on discrimination, including in relation to social assistance.  

A majority of the 3-judge Court further found that the exclusion of pre-settled status as a sufficient right to reside for the purposes of claiming means-tested benefits was prohibited as made clear in previous cases. The same majority found that the rule was directly discriminatory on the grounds of nationality and as this type of discrimination is not capable of being justified under EU law, it was unlawful. The decision means that those with pre-settled status who are present in the UK can now rely on that status in order to meet the habitual residence requirement for means-tested benefits. 

In his leading judgment, Lord Justice McCombe agreed with CPAG’s argument that once a right of residence had been granted by the UK, the discrimination was prohibited outright:

“It is perhaps not surprising that EU law should, in principle, allow EU nationals to take benefit from particular national laws of individual States if they lawfully reside in the State in question, without discrimination on the basis of nationality. Such entitlement would be entirely consonant with the aims and objects of the Union.

The Order of the Court of Appeal quashes both the legislation which provides that having ‘pre-settled status’ is not a sufficient right to reside for the purposing of accessing means-tested benefits and the decisions of SSWP refusing Ms Fratila’s and Mr Tanase’s claims for universal credit. The Court of Appeal also refused SSWP’s application for permission to appeal. 

However, the Court granted a short stay to 26 February 2021 during which time SSWP does not have to implement the judgment. The effect of the quashing of the legislation is that, once the stay is lifted, anyone with pre-settled status satisfies the ‘right to reside’ test for access to means-tested benefits.

Read the Court of Appeal judgment
PDF iconView the Court of Appeal order.

 

WHAT CAN A CLAIMANT IN A SIMILAR POSITION DO? 

[NOTE - this section and the note will be updated following the CPAG have prepared a note for claimants and their advisers on what to do (old advice). UPDATED ADVICE: Fratila-Advice-for-Claimants-08-03-2021

Despite the quashing of the regulations being stayed until the Supreme Court judgment, claimants should still act now to protect their rights. 

In summary:

  • Claimants with pre-settled status who have failed the habitual residence test in relation to a claim for means-tested benefits should apply for a “revision” of the decision (mandatory reconsideration), if they have not already done so. 
  • Claimants who have already had a mandatory reconsideration refused should immediately appeal against the decision to the first-tier tribunal, relying on the Fratila Court of Appeal decision. These appeals may need to be stayed. 
  • Claimants with pre-settled status who have not yet made a claim for benefit should claim benefits to which they think they are entitled as soon as possible. 

Please note that this webpage (and note for advisers) is up to date at the time of writing (08 March 2021) and advisers should check back regularly for updates.