Benefits ‘crisis’ over new EU migrants

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The government is facing a "crisis" over the access of migrants to benefits, the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has told the House of Commons.

Responding to an urgent question from Labour MP Frank Field on 5 March 2013, Mr Duncan Smith told the chamber that it is currently too easy for migrants from the European Economic Area to pass the habitual residency tests to prove they live here and entitling them to benefits.

"I am trying to sort out rules that allow people to stay only a short term before claiming benefits...I inherited a habitual residency test which simply is not fit for purpose. We are trying to tighten that up dramatically," Mr Duncan Smith said.

"I agree with you [Mr Field] there is somewhat of a crisis over this."

Mr Duncan Smith told MPs he is working with other countries to try to prevent the European Commission from making any more changes, including preventing child benefit being paid at British levels to parents who work here but whose children live abroad.

Shadow Work and Pensions Minister Stephen Timms warned that further welfare changes could lead to problems.

"The roll out of [Universal Credit] has already been drastically delayed…if the government is going to change the rules, as [Mr Duncan Smith] suggested, ahead of its implementation that risks making the delivery of Universal Credit even more chaotic," Mr Timms said

Mr Duncan Smith also set out more of the government's thinking on dissuading Romanian and Bulgarian migrants from coming to Britain when they are given access to the labour market from January 2014.

MPs heard that the government is looking at ways of forcing councils to detail to whom they are offering social housing, while GPs will be handed strict guidance so they know they can refuse to treat certain migrants who have no right to claim free services on the NHS.

Mr Duncan Smith promised he would publish the number of people from overseas who have been given social housing.

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