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Vow to fight EU migrant benefit bid

The Government has vowed to fight the European Commission over efforts by Brussels to lift British social security restrictions designed to curb "benefit tourism".

Current social security rules limit benefit claims for immigrants to those who can prove they have a good prospect of finding work and have a long-term commitment to the UK. Migrants considered not to be "economically active" are turned down.

But now the Commission says the so-called "right to reside" rules break EU laws.

A Government spokesman insisted that the current arrangements are "right for the UK" and prevent "unsustainable burdens being placed on our social security system".

However, the Commission's next step is likely to be formal infringement proceedings against the UK which could end in the European Court of Justice.

A ruling against the Government could force changes in the "Habitual Residency Test", introduced more than 25 years ago but tightened further in 2004, when EU expansion extended access rights to citizens of eight poor central European countries.

Government officials say that, without the current restrictions, the Treasury's annual benefits bill could soar by as much as £2.5 billion in payouts such as the jobseeker's allowance, currently only available to those who have previously worked for at least a year in the UK, and income support.

The Government spokesman said: "We are in discussions with the Commission as, in our view, the current rules are within the law and are right for the UK, and changing them now would not be in our interest.

"Our rules fully support the freedom of workers within the EU, whilst making sure that there are reasonable restrictions on access to social security for those who have never worked in the UK.

"This prevents unsustainable burdens being placed on our social security system. We will argue our case and work towards a favourable outcome."

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