Home > Life in the UK > UK Immigrants and State Benefits

UK Immigrants and State Benefits

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 22 Feb 2017 | comments*Discuss
Immigrants Benefits State Uk Housing

Foreign nationals applying for a visa to live or work in the UK will generally have to satisfy the immigration authorities that they have the financial means to support themselves and any dependents. Some non-EU nationals may be granted leave to remain in the UK which states that they are not entitled to any help from public funds. However, even if a foreign national resident in the UK is not entitled to receive state benefits they may still be entitled to receive certain contribution-based benefits. These could include unemployment benefits, maternity pay and pensions.

The entitlement of immigrants to claim UK state benefits is a hugely complicated issue. Claimants may have to satisfy an habitual or usual residency test before qualifying for benefits. This test may also be applied to some European nationals and even to British citizens returning to the UK – especially if they are not working when they make their application for assistance. This test is used to prove that the claimant is both entitled to live in the UK and that they are ordinarily resident in the UK. However, there has recently been a suggestion that UK rules restricting the eligibility of EU citizens to claim state benefits could contravene European law.

Asylum Seekers

UK asylum seekers may be entitled to receive financial assistance and housing if they would be left destitute without such help. Those who do not claim asylum immediately upon their arrival in the UK may find that they lose their entitlement to assistance. Asylum support may be paid to asylum seekers who qualify for it – this constitutes a regular payment so that food and other necessities can be bought. Accommodation may also be provided to those who need it while their application is being processed.

The National Health Service

Whether or not they are entitled to receive state benefits, immigrants will usually be entitled to receive free healthcare through the NHS. There is a fairly common misconception that the NHS is intended to provide free healthcare for British people or British taxpayers. However, this is not correct. The purpose of the NHS is to provide free healthcare to British residents. Therefore, foreign nationals who have permission to be in the UK will generally be entitled to free treatment. Asylum seekers are also entitled to free treatment. Conversely, a long-term British citizen, and tax payer, who has subsequently moved abroad is unlikely to be entitled to free treatment on the NHS.

There are some forms of care, including treatment at a hospital’s emergency department and treatment for some infectious diseases, which is free to all.

Social Housing

The belief that immigrants come to the UK and immediately receive council housing has become increasingly widespread in recent years. It is a belief that far-right political parties have attempted to exploit. However, a survey conducted in 2009 showed that only 1.8% of those living in UK social housing were recent immigrants. (For these purposes “recent” meant those immigrants who had come to the UK within the preceding five years.) A large proportion of these will have come to the UK as refugees. A further 10% of those living in social housing were immigrants who had been in the UK for more than five years.

Whether or not an immigrant will have any entitlement to social housing or housing benefit will depend on a number of factors and, in particular, whether they are subject to any form of immigration control. The entitlement of some asylum seekers to be provided with accommodation while their application is being processed does not, technically, come under the heading of social housing. This entitlement has been governed by separate legislation since 2000 and is determined purely by an individual’s status as an asylum seeker.


Everyone in the UK has a legal duty to ensure that their dependent children aged between 5 and 16 receive a full education. There is no requirement for children to be sent to a conventional school to receive this education but, inevitably, the vast majority will be. All children who fall within the compulsory education age are entitled to attend a free, local authority school. This entitlement is not in any way affected by their parents’ immigration status.

The Children of Immigrants

Under European law the children of EU immigrants who are in full-time education may acquire their own, independent, right to live in the UK. With this may come an entitlement to receive certain benefits, including housing, whilst they remain in education. By extension, the “primary carer” of a child who has these rights may also acquire similar rights and entitlements. These will be completely independent of any entitlements that the primary carer would have in their own right.

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Gwen I agree 100% It makes my blood boil when I see the amount of money we give to a high percentage of corrupt governments , and the latest story about the many millions of pounds we give Pakistan while they plough 7 billion into there defence and nuclear ambitions, has our government completely lost its mind. I'm afraid our government has no regard for our own people the same as these recipient countries have no regard for their own poor. I am beginning to think unless things change we will in the future see UKIP becoming a great threat to the traditional parties, and good luck to them.
Polly tinkle - 22-Feb-17 @ 5:54 PM
My friend from Sri Lanka has been in the country for 14 years on a family visa. Three of her children were born here and one now has a British passport. They are not entitled to claim benefits.Herhusband has recently left her and she will need to apply for a visa in her own name.She is on a very low income now.Will she be able to claim benefits and can she apply for a divorce in the UK?
isipingo - 20-Oct-16 @ 7:17 AM
I think it's clear from this information that immigrants can not claim for any benefits - only asylum seekers can IE those fleeing war and persecution in their own country.
loz - 2-Sep-15 @ 11:52 AM
Well, I'm a foreigner living in the UK for 11 years and always worked, paid taxes, nat in...proud myself of never ever have claimed any kind of benefits... If I left my country, it was for a reasonand benefit resort was not one of them....
eppog - 12-Jun-15 @ 11:43 PM
I think we have to look beyond the media focused society that we live in and look at fertilising our own minds with the facts of immigration, benefit fraudsters and cheats. I myself am in a financial predicament due to the unbelievably inept, inadequate, flawless HMRCS who in my opinion should at least have some sort of ombudsman to complain to. We can't keep griping about the immigration and how these people are coming to Britain to exploit us, if someone gave you directions to the promised land what would you do? What did Mary and Joseph do when they were told to follow the shining star!?!. Its our government that needs to be quickly addressed, is it a coincidence that Cameron is trying to get a cap on immigration when UKIP are starting to rise, he feels that if he now, after all this time, starts to listen to the British public he will keep his position as Head of State. These parasites who call themselves the government, the people that carry our very worth, our financial strength and gives trillions away to Banks who then hand millions of pounds away as bonuses, bonus for failure thats a new idea to present to your boss and the next team meeting!! The government who pay billions to stay in Europe so that murderers, rapists, fraudsters can enjoy the freedom of movement in Europe!! Stop moaning at the people who are taking advantage of a system that and do something about the people that allow the system to carry on!!!
Elnino - 5-Nov-14 @ 6:59 PM
I am Chinese,apllied for Tier2(Intra Company Transfer)visa,I want to know if I can invite my wife and son to London? Can my son go to public school?Is it free?Which documents should we provide when apply dependant visa? Thank you very much!
Egg - 29-Jun-14 @ 1:48 PM
My friend is a British citizen who has become unemployed at 62 years. He is willing to work. His wife is not a British or EU Citizen, but has leave to remain. Friend owns a flat in Kent which he rents out as is currently living in Yorkshire where he was working until redundancy earlier this year. His mortgage is paid and he rents home out so he can afford rent where he is residing. He went there in the first place as got a job vacancy. What can he claim?
Fran - 22-Jul-13 @ 2:31 AM
What benefits are children of foreign nationals entitled to and what information do I need off my client to claim this. Romanian couple with two young children born in this country
TPR - 18-Apr-12 @ 9:37 AM
Why are us native british pensioners struggling to live while immigrants get benifits that our taxes and nat ins pay for. Is it not time that our so called government looked to our indiginous population and stopped squandering our money on other countries and immigration.
morpork - 13-Mar-12 @ 2:09 PM
We pump out billions of £Sterling to foreign countries to assist the homeless and starving - whilst our cities are littered with the homeless and starving. Foreigners, legal and illegal take advantage of our legal aid system and sue the very hand that feeds them. The government is long overdue in ceasing foreign aid under our own house is in order. I recently wrote in a regional newspaper expressing my misgivings about throwing the tax payers cash abroad - and there was noit one letter in disagreement with what I said. The "do gooders" and religious organisations are free to donate whatever they want as is every other individual wishing to do so. During my whole life, Africa has been the hub of the "give to" brigade and the situation is no better there today than it was 70 years ago. We are throwing money away into a bottomless pit - where corruption is rife and politicians drive around in Mercedes cars and reside in palatial dwellings whilst the population live in sheds and starve.We in the UK are in a corner, having no credible political party to trust or vote for. I foresee nothing but gloom for the next decade - whilst our millionaire, public school educated "Hooray Henries" of a government wallow in their welath and splendour !!
Gwyn - 22-Feb-12 @ 12:50 PM
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