Claiming Benefits in Europe

As the United Kingdom is of the EEA (European Economic Area) it is sometimes possible to claim UK benefits while living and or working in another EEA country. Each country has a social security system with contacts with each other’s countries so that benefits can be issued across the borders.

If you are planning on moving to a country permanently and you have been on benefits in the UK you will need to speak with your benefits team in detail to see which benefits you will take with you, or whether your entitlement to benefits in this country will give you instant access to benefits in the country of your choice. If you are going to another country temporarily on a job or study leave it creates a different set of rules. Again speak to your benefit advisor to see what your entitlement will be whilst you are out of the country.

What is the EEA

As previously stated the EEA is the European Economic Area. This is a set of countries that all fall under the same set of economic rules so that people, goods and services can be freely moved between countries. It was commissioned in 1989 to allow countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to participate in the freedom of movement without actually becoming members of the European Union.

Members of the EEA; Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and now Switzerland and Gibraltar are all bound by a standard set of European laws that govern the movement of people goods and services across all countries.

Switzerland and Gibraltar do follow the same arrangements for benefits and the rest of the EEA but have a separate set of special conditions. This means that laws about benefit entitlements can be carried from country to country as well as the benefits themselves.

So can you claim benefits from the United Kingdom whilst living/working in another EEA country?

The simple answer to this is yes, but as with all things simple it comes with certain conditions. You need to contact your benefit advisor before you intend to move with a lot of pertinent information about where you will live and whether you intend to work or study there. If you are not entitled to get the exact same benefit you may be able to get a similar benefit that your new country of residence offers to supplement your income.

In order to get access to these other benefits you will need to prove that you have paid some level of National Insurance (or received NI Credits) in the United Kingdom. You can get a form; call the E301 which gives a record of all National Insurance contributions you have made that may help you get a similar benefit in your new home.

What type of benefits could you be entitled to whilst living abroad?

Quite a lot of benefits that are available in the United Kingdom could also be available in any of the EEA countries. Depending on the level of National Insurance contributions you have paid in the past you may be entitled to Jobseekers Allowance. If you have been in employment in the UK and fit the relevant criteria you may be able to get an allowance whilst you are in another country and seeking work.

Benefits for people who are ill or injured

If you are suffering for illness or injury there are a variety of benefits you could qualify for. People who are in employment may qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 28 weeks of the year. Again there are criteria to meet, for example that as with SMP (Statutory Maternity Pay) you are earning a minimum of £107 pounds a week before taxes are removed.

You do not need to have been working for an employer for very long to qualify for this benefit but you do need to have a legal contract with them regarding your work. You can get SSP once you have been off work due to sickness for longer than four days in a row, but interestingly these four days can include weekends and bank holidays. So if you are ill on the weekend before May bank holiday or Easter Weekend for example you would get the whole weekend’s worth of benefit as long as you can prove you were ill for that time. Most companies insist on seeing at least a self-certification of illness document to award SSP if not an actual document signed by your doctor.

If you have a long term, recurrent illness or disability but you can still work you can be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance. This is the benefit that replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008 and is to provide financial aid to people who struggle to work due to health concerns.

This benefit is a specialist benefit, tailored to your particular needs and also offers you access to other types of non-financial support. You have access to a personal support worker and other things such as training, counselling and support to get back into work when you are ready too. It is understood that if you are on this benefit it is a temporary solution until you are able to return to work, but if your condition deteriorates or shows no sign of improvement that would allow you to return to work, you stop being expected to return or even attempt to return to work.

If your condition is a long term disability that would prevent you from doing a huge number of basic tasks such as caring for yourself, walking, speaking and other things, or is a mental health problem that causes you to be either unable to function or considered a risk to yourself or others you may be able to apply for Disability Living Allowance. This is a strenuously monitored benefit that requires you to provide proof of your condition via a long form, reports from the medical professionals involved and possibly a medical examination from your doctor.

If you have an illness or condition that has been caused in some way by the work that you do, such as lung conditions for miners or industrial deafness from being subjected to constant or exceptionally loud noises you can even claim one of two types of Industrial Disablement Benefits. These two benefits are pertaining either to industrial accidents or to diseases and deafness; your benefit advisor would be able to tell you which to claim for.

Benefits for people who are expecting a baby or who have children

If you are expecting a baby and need to be abroad you could be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP). This is dependant, however on your working status prior to claiming the benefit. In order to qualify for this benefit you need to have been in on-going employment constantly right up until the 15th week before the baby’s due date. You need to have been in this employment for at least 26 weeks prior to that 15th week deadline and the employer has to be one that is in the United Kingdom. The amount you earn can affect your claim as well so please check that you earn at least an average of £107 a week before your tax is taken off before you claim.

If you do not meet these criteria and still need money to help you when you have your baby, you may be able to qualify for Maternity Allowance (MA). MA is paid to people who have been in long term employment before needing the time off, you need to have been in this employment for 26 weeks out of the 66 weeks before the due date of your baby. You also need to have earned an average of £30 for some of those weeks, so if the job is just part time and you do not earn much you will need to check this out. 13 weeks of the preceding 66 weeks before the baby’s birth need to have earned you £30 or more.

If you have children already you should be able to get Child Benefit for them, again depending on certain criteria. You can only get Child Benefit for a child that is under 16 years of age unless they remain either in full time education or they are on a scheme provided by the government to get young people into work, such as a youth training or apprenticeship scheme. You can continue to get child benefit for them up to the age of 19 or even 20 sometimes as long as the study course they are on is A level or its equivalent (i.e. NVQ or AS level).

If your young person is 16 and has left school you can still get Child Benefit for them as long as they have registered for one of the careers assistance programs such as the Connexions Service or something similar. This is a service that helps young people gain the skills, experience and introductions into full time work and helps subsidise them while they are there. You will no longer be able to get Child Benefit for a young person that has left school and gone straight into paid employment.

Child tax credit can be awarded for a child that lives with you, whether they are your own child or not. You cannot get child tax credit for a child if another person is also claiming it, for example if you are an absent parent who has the child on weekends and the other parent already claims child tax credit you would not be able to claim as well. The tax credits are means tested and you can only get them if your income is low enough. Child tax credits vary from family to family as they are worked out on several criteria.

You get a family premium for every family that meets the payment threshold as long as they have one or more child. This premium is currently worth up to a maximum of £545 depending on your level of income. You can still get some level of benefit even if you do not meet the criteria for maximum benefit. After this you will get a premium for each child. This will also be worked out based on different circumstances, for example if you have a child under one years of age or a disabled child you will be entitled to more benefit. The base level for someone who is on the lowest level of income with a child two years or over who is not in receipt of any disability benefits is worth up to £2690 but these other factors can increase this.

If you are working but your wages are very low for whatever reason you may qualify for Working Tax Credit. Again this benefit is means tested and is also based against the number of hours you work. You have to be working 16 hours or more to qualify and working 30 hours will get you the maximum amount of benefit depending upon your income.

If you have children you may also be able to get assistance with childcare as the Working Tax Credits will pay a percentage of the costs. Your child has to be looked after by an accredited child care provider that is OFSTED registered, however. As with the Child Tax Credit there are additional allocations for disabled people and also for couples. Whereas a single person has to be in employment for 16 hours a week a couple has to be employed (or self-employed ) for 30 hours a week.

If you are bringing up a child who is not yours but for whom you have legal guardianship you can also get a separate benefit if you are getting Child Benefit for them. Normally you can only get this benefit if both of the parents have died but under certain conditions applications for Guardians Benefit will be considered. These conditions may be where the mother has died but the identity or whereabouts of the father (or vice versa) is unknown. It could be that the parent that remains alive in able to care for the child for another reason such as being in prison, being in hospital or having a court order claim them unfit to parent. It can even be if the couple have just been divorced before the parent died and the surviving parent does not meet the conditions deemed necessary for them to look after the child. In summary you can only obtain this benefit if there is no way at all that either of the biological parents is available to care for the child.

Other Benefits you can still receive in Europe

If the person you live with, either as husband, wife or civil partner has either paid their National Insurance Contributions before they you may be entitled to claim a Bereavement Benefit. This will only be paid if you are lower than the age to qualify for the State Pension, or your other half was not entitled to the Category A State Pension when they pass away. If you are a War Widow or Widower there is a different type of award called the War Widow’s or Widower’s Pension. You only qualify for this if your significant other died during the war or whilst serving in one of the Armed Forces.

The final benefit you could be entitled to is the State Pension and you can only get this once you reach the recognised State Pension age. You or your wife, husband or civil partner must have paid enough National Insurance Contributions or received enough National Insurance Credits to be able to qualify for this pension. You also need to find out who runs the pension scheme in the country you wish to live in to find out whether you will still qualify in that country.