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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Returning to NI after time abroad. Can you claim housing benefit?

A number of changes were implemented this year which aim to restrict a migrant’s ability to access social security benefits, including Housing Benefit.

When talking about migrants it is easy to think of a migrant as a person originating from a European country or beyond. It is probably very unlikely that you would consider a returning British national or an Irish national as being a migrant. However, the changes brought in this year also impact on such people.

Returning British or Irish nationals hit by JSA changes

Housing Rights Service has recently seen an increase in the number of returning British nationals contacting our advice line after being turned down for Income-based Jobseekers Allowance (IBJSA) and, in some cases, Housing Benefit (HB).

Since 1st January 2014, all migrants, including returning British and Irish nationals, must have been living in the Common Travel Area (CTA includes UK, Republic of Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man) for at least three months before being able to claim IBJSA.

British and Irish citizens have an automatic right to reside in the CTA. However, issues can arise if a person has recently returned to the UK after having lived for a time outside the CTA.

Anyone who is regarded as a returning British national subject to the three month rule will be denied IBJSA until they have been actually habitually resident in the UK for at least three months.

Claiming housing benefit without any entitlement to JSA

An applicant must be habitually resident in order to claim housing benefit.  As we’ve seen, an EEA national will only be viewed as habitually resident, for the purposes of claiming housing benefit, after he or she has been living in the CTA for three months.  

A returning UK or ROI national may, however, be able to show that he or she is habitually resident before this three month period ends.  This means that someone returning to NI after a period abroad may be entitled to housing benefit, despite having no entitlement to JSA.

Habitual residence is a complicated test but it essentially looks at the person’s intention to settle. Evidence of habitual residence can include, for example:

  • enrolling children in a local school
  • registering with a GP
  • setting up home e.g. taking on a tenancy
  • opening a UK bank account
  • having family and friends nearby.

What is an absence from the CTA?

There is no clear guidance on what constitutes a long enough absence to make a returning British national subject to the three month rule. For example, someone who has been abroad on an extended holiday should not be treated as a returning national. But what about someone on a gap year, someone working in a fixed term contract abroad, someone caring for a relative abroad? Again, investigations will have to be made into the person’s intentions e.g. does the evidence show that they intended to live abroad long term, did they break all links with their residency?

Tagged In

Benefits, Affordability

This article was written on 27 November 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.