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UK Immigrants and State Benefits

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 8 Feb 2020 | 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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I am a pensioner, been to work all my life never had anything out of the system.Today on one of my look about s I saw an article saying that immigrants legal or otherwise seen to be in a position to make claims against the system for nearly £30,000 a year for benefits, I guess I am lucky that I can get about £120.00 per week. What an amazing way to treat the the old ones. Today I was only trying to find out what happens to the immigrants who are collected in the English Channel which in turn lead me to find out about the above issues, and I did not find any answers to my original enquires. What a sad state of affairs. Sir G
Sir G - 8-Feb-20 @ 10:00 AM
I find it hard to believe, after finishing work in May, I can't claim anything, unless I look for a job, after working for 49 year's, paid in full in the system, because I finished, this job was not doing me any good, after the death of my mother in February, I just couldn't cope, because my wife is at work, that's it, nothing,
Mr John W Knight - 19-Dec-19 @ 6:24 PM
Ja si Myslim, ze illegal emigration, by meli pracovat stejne jako legal. To znamena 6 mesicu a vice. Take I azyl, aby odvadely rent a tax jako kazdy jiny. Co se tyce lidi. Take zneuzivaji benefit na Deti. Alkohol a drug. Takovy lide by meli jit na detoxa do prace.
Selena - 3-Oct-19 @ 5:15 PM
I’m afraid that when it comes to immigrants not being entitled to social housing in the UK, that is not strictly true. One of my mates works for my council Greenwich in the housing department, and he has told me that the department are told to prioritise immigrants. Of course this is not a publicly admitted policy and I won’t give my friends name. Another friend had been on the housing list for over 15 years. Born in England, always worked and paid taxes with 2 young sons yet he could never get a council place until last year. He was told constantly he was not a priority because he was renting privately. Yet those recently arrived from abroad with families WERE a priority. That is a disgrace and something you probably wouldn’t see elsewhere in the world. And also according to the information given here, healthcare is available to any British resident. So you could have somebody born abroad who has only been a resident for a few months who is entitled to exactly the same as somebody born in Britain. No wonder our country is seen as a soft touch around the world. We give it away for free.
Nick - 17-Apr-19 @ 5:33 AM
hi my mum is 86 she has Alzheimer's. She lives in Spain and get a pension of £9.00 a week. So the family needs to foot the rest of thebill. Me I'm 50 yrs old. All my savings go into my mother's upkeep. Seems an immigrant gets more benefits than US British. Does that seem fair? What will happen to me when I cannot work any longer? Will the British government toss me away? In favour of an immigrant? In Europe there is a law where all the children need to participate in the well fair of our parents up keep. Why do you jot have this law in Britain? As I have 2 sisters. Both born in the UK who have never put there hand in their pocket for our mother's up keep and yet they are waiting to see what they will get from.the will.
ECC801S - 13-Jan-19 @ 7:37 AM
I have worked all my life so has my husband and brought 3 children up never claimed anything both of us have 45 yrs national insurance payments in.My husband hurt his kneck at work is diabetic and has high blood pressure.He has not been able to work for2yrs. he has a small private pension we still have a morgage not expecting him to have to finish work. All we could claim was 6months job seekers allowance because i still have to work to pay our morgage.He is 64 so am i its absolutly digusting he have paid years of national insurance and when we need help cant get it.You can come inthis country and claim alsorts its so unfair we are the forgotton people people the british working class.
mary - 9-Jul-18 @ 8:57 PM
I literally can't believe the state that this country has got its self in ! we where a proud nation of hard working people! Now we are full of people taking , for free all that we have built! It wouldn't happen anywhere else on the planet! Insulting to our ancestors who gave up their lives for all our futures! Why ?
M - 1-Feb-18 @ 10:49 PM
@pensionless -government policy states that anyone who has paid national insurance contributions for less than 10 years will not be entitled to any state pension at all :(
Anst - 7-Jul-17 @ 3:44 PM
My Mum was born in the 1940`s she worked until she had me at 21 and soon after had my twin brothers. He Mother took ill and needed constant care. She had her hand full. After her Mother dies and we were all in secondary school she took a part time job and paid half stamp (as it was called then) when she became of retirement age she was told that she was not eligible for a state pension. Not a bean ever!!!!. How is this so???? She was an unpaid carer for many years and never claimed any benefits. Correct me if I am wrong about this, but how come People from foreign counties come to UK for what ever reason and are entitled to a state pension when my Mother is not?
pensionless - 24-Jun-17 @ 9:28 PM
Hi iam indian on spouse visa but divorced I hv baby who British now I applied for visa extension as parent of British child can my child entitled for any housing as she British
Ja - 8-Jun-17 @ 3:36 PM
Bev - Your Question:
My brother in law is an English Citizen that was born and raised here in England. He is 57 years of age and has never been unemployed from leaving school. And has paid his dues.15 years ago he went to America to work and like here was never unemployed.In February last year he came over to attend our sons funeral and was staying for 2 weeks. His health rapidly deteriorated and it was discovered that he had a DVT whilst flying and has a Pulmonary Embolism ( clots on his lungs) and this means that he can no longer fly and has lost everything in the USA. After a year he decided to apply for money here, all he wants is money for food and clothing as he lives with us and needs no big hand outs. He has been refused and told that he has not been in the country for 2 years and that any money he has put into the uk system is forgotten. There is nothing at all that he can claim.This is very wrong. Can anyone give me advice? Thanks in advanceBev

Our Response:
Depending on how long your brother-in-law has been out of the country, he would have to satisfy the conditions of the habitual residence test (HRT) before he is allowed to make a claim (which you/he are probably aware of). However, each case is different and the local authority or HMRC will decide at what point he can be viewed as habitually resident, please see CAB link here. I'm afraid we cannot offer any more advice than this as it all depends upon his individual circumstances.
AboutImmigration - 3-Apr-17 @ 2:59 PM
My brother in law is an English Citizen that was born and raised here in England. He is 57 years of age and has never been unemployed from leaving school. And has paid his dues. 15 years ago he went to America to work and like here was never unemployed. In February last year he came over to attend our sons funeral and was staying for 2 weeks. His health rapidly deteriorated and it was discovered that he had a DVT whilst flying and has a Pulmonary Embolism ( clots on his lungs) and this means that he can no longer fly and has lost everything in the USA. After a year he decided to apply for money here, all he wants is money for food and clothing as he lives with us and needs no big hand outs. He has been refused and told that he has not been in the country for 2 yearsand that any money he has put into the uk system is forgotten. There is nothing at all that he can claim. This is very wrong. Can anyone give me advice? Thanksin advance Bev
Bev - 3-Apr-17 @ 6:20 AM
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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