The EU’s highest court has said that the UK cannot systematically deny social assistance to EU citizens to whom it has granted residency rights after Brexit.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) was issuing its opinion on a set of questions referred to it by the Appeal Tribunal for Northern Ireland.
The case centres on CG, a Dutch and Croatian national, who was granted pre-settled status in the UK on the basis of the EU Settlement Scheme introduced as a result of Brexit.
Court has jurisdiction
Her subsequent application for assistance under Universal Credit was refused by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.
CG had claimed that this refusal meant that she was being treated differently from British citizens, and that this represented discrimination on the ground of nationality.
Advocate General Richard de la Tour decided that the CJEU had jurisdiction to rule on the issue, as all the facts and all the relevant national provisions related to either before or during the Brexit transition period.
The Advocate General said that member states should be entitled to impose “lawful restrictions” on the grant of social benefits to ensure that “persons exercising their right of residence should not … become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host member state”.
He said it would not be contrary to the principle of equal treatment laid down in article 24(1) of Directive 2004/38 to treat EU citizens differently on the basis of whether or not they were economically active.
The judge decided, however, that “the systematic nature of the refusal of access to social assistance does not seem to be proportionate to such an objective”.
A full judgment in the case will be given at a later date.