Islington-based report calls for suspension of Universal Credit residency test amid Covid pandemic

A report has found thousands of EU migrants could be barred from government support. Picture: Jonath

A report has found thousands of EU migrants could be barred from government support. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA. - Credit: PA

Islington Council has called for the residency test part of Universal Credit to be suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), commissioned by Islington Council, has found thousands of EU migrants could be barred from government support during Covid-19 crisis.

IPPR has identified problems with the Habitual Residence Test, in which applicants prove the UK is their main home, including difficult requests for historic documents, shallow tick-box exercises, and poor communication.

It found about 10 per cent of Universal Credit claims which require the test were rejected due to that section - about 45,000 in the last year.

READ MORE: 68% spike in Islington Universal Credit claims during lockdown as rent arrears increase by ‘nearly £1million’Those facing issues passing the test include EU migrants who are self-employed or on zero-hour contracts.

Cllr Satnam Gill, Islington Council’s executive member for finance, said: “This research has proved our worse suspicions about the unfairness of the Habitual Residence Test.

“It is a tragedy that around 45,000 people across the country have gone through this nightmare.”

Recommendations in the IPPR report, to improve the test long-term, include additional support for vulnerable claimants and transparency in rejections.

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Marley Morris, IPPR’s associate director for immigration, said many EU citizens are currently working in vulnerable sectors such as hospitality and retail and are facing redundancy: “Yet the government’s flawed Habitual Residence Test risks barring many from accessing Universal Credit, leaving them with no safety net as the economic crisis unfolds.”

MP Stephen Timms, chair of the work and pensions select committee, said he welcomes the research, which “shines an invaluable light on this little known and poorly defined feature of the benefit system”.

A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “This government is committed to supporting people affected by Covid-19 and has implemented an enormous package of measures to do so, such as income protection schemes, mortgage holidays and additional security for renters - which are all open to those with no recourse to public funds - as well as injecting over £6.5 billion into the welfare system.”