Help for people from the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA)

If you are from the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA), you may be able to claim certain benefits or get help from the council if you become homeless, but your rights depend on how long you have been here and whether or not you are working.

What are my rights when I first arrive?

All EEA and EU nationals have an automatic right to live in the UK for three months after their arrival.

Unless you are working during these three months, you will not be eligible to get help from the council with housing or claim benefits. It is a good idea to have enough money to see you through this period and try to arrange to stay with friends or family for a short time.

It can be very difficult to get into a homeless hostel or night-shelter. This is because you usually need to be able to claim housing benefit to pay for your hostel space and you are not entitled to housing benefit unless you are working. During the winter months some churches, charities and councils provide free cold weather shelters where you might be able to stay at night.

Contact Streetlink if you find yourself with nowhere to stay at night. They will be able to put you in contact with help in your area. Go to their website or phone them on 0300 500 0914.

If you are working during the first three months, then the rules for ‘workers’ apply (see below).

Workers

EU and EEA workers and their family members who are ‘habitually resident’ (or exempt from the habitual residence test), have the right to:

Am I classed as a ‘worker’?

You are classed as a ‘worker’ if you are an EU or EEA national and are working full-time or part-time. You can be employed under a permanent or temporary contract.

It is not usually important what type of work you do or who your employer is.

If you are classed as a worker and you stop working, you might keep your worker status if you are:

  • unemployed and registered with Jobcentre Plus
  • are temporarily unable to work because of sickness or an accident
  • were in work but are now in vocational training (although if they have voluntarily given up their job to do vocational training, the course must be related to their former job to qualify)
  • are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth as long as there is an intention to return to work within a ‘reasonable period’ of giving birth. In most cases, 52 weeks will be used as a basis for considering a reasonable period.

What if I’m self-employed?

If you are registered to pay tax and national insurance as a self-employed person:

  • you can apply for social housing, make a homelessness application and/or apply for welfare benefits
  • if you are temporarily unable to work because of sickness or an accident then you continue to have the same rights.

Jobseekers

People from the EEA and EU whose only right to reside in the UK is as a jobseeker have limited rights to help. They :

  • are no longer eligible for assistance if they become homeless
  • can no longer apply for social housing
  • are not entitled to housing benefit.

So, if you have recently arrived in the UK and are looking for work, you must find and pay for your own housing.

You may be able to claim housing benefit once you are in work if you are on a low income.

Becoming permanently resident

EU and EEA citizens who have had a right to reside (of any type) in the UK for five years automatically get the right to permanent residence. Permanent residence means that you are eligible to apply for social housing and can get help from the council if you become homeless.

You can get a right of permanent residence before five years:

  • if you had to stop work because of an accident or illness that meant you can no longer work – the five year qualifying period drops to two years
  • if you had to stop working because of an accident or illness that was work-related – you get a right of permanent residence immediately
  • if you reach retirement age (or take early retirement) while you are in the UK – you can become a permanent resident if you have worked or been self-employed for at least 12 months before reaching pension age, and you have lived in the UK for at least three years.

If you have never worked in the UK then you do not qualify to become a permanent resident.

Your family

The rights listed above also apply to the family members of all EU/EEA nationals. People who are classed as family members include:

  • a husband, wife or civil partner
  • a child who is under 21 or is dependent on you
  • dependent relatives, which could include unmarried partners, although special rules apply in some circumstances.

Former partners, regardless of their immigration status, will retain these rights if they are responsible for children who are under 18 and remain in education in the UK.

You might be asked to prove that a relationship is real. If you are making a homelessness application or claiming housing benefit you should take along any documents that prove your relationship. This might include passports, birth, adoption or marriage certificates.

Where can I get more help?

Immigration law is extremely complicated, so get advice before you apply for housing if you are not sure of your status:

The Trades Union Congress (Tel: 020 7636 4030) provides information about employees’ rights and has produced some useful leaflets, which have been translated into a variety of languages, including : Working in the UK: your rights

EU and EEA jargon

Here is a simple guide to some of the terms used when talking about European countries, the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EAA).

A2 nations

The two countries that joined the EU in January 2007 are Bulgaria and Romania and they are often called the ‘A2 nations’.

Citizens of the A2 countries previously had restrictions on their rights to work, claim benefits and access social housing and homelessness assistance, but these restrictions ended on the 1st January 2014. Since that date A2 nationals have had the same rights as any other workers from the EU and EEA.

A8 nations
The eight countries that joined the EU in January 2004 are:

  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia.

They are often called ‘A8′ nations.

A8 nationals previously had restrictions on their rights to work, claim benefits and get access to housing and were required to register under something called the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS). The WRS was closed on the 1 May 2011 and since that date A8 nationals have had the same rights as any other workers from the EU and EEA.

Cyprus and Malta also joined the EEA/EU in January 2004. Their citizens also have full EEA/EU rights.

Accession states
This is a term for the newest countries to join the EU and EEA.

European Union (EU)
The European Union was founded in 1992 and has 28 member states:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom

EU citizens can live, travel, work, and invest in other member states.

European Economic Area (EEA)
The EEA began in 1994 and allowed participating countries to trade in the European Single Market without having to join the EU. There are 31 participating countries, which include the 28 EU member states plus:

  • Iceland
  • Liechtenstein
  • Norway

Switzerland also has an agreement with the EEA, which gives her citizens the same right to trade in the European Single Market.

Worker authorisation scheme
Until the 31st December 2013, A2 nationals who wanted to work in the UK had to register with this scheme run by the Home Office to get an accession worker card. There were different schemes for different types of work. Since the 1st January 2014, these rules no longer apply and A2 nationals have the same rights as other EEA workers.

Worker registration scheme (WRS)
Prior to the 1st May 2011 A8 nationals working in the UK had to register with this scheme run by the Home Office for the first twelve months of work. The WRS was abolished on the 1st May 2011. Since that date, the UK government has not been able to treat A8 nationals any differently to other EEA nationals.

Phone an adviser

If you have a housing problem, call our expert housing advice helpline
0345 075 5005

Email an adviser

If you have a non-urgent problem and would like to speak to an adviser
email us

We are sorry that we cannot provide this information in Welsh, however if you would like to speak to an adviser in Welsh please contact 0345 075 5005.

This page was last updated on: June 25, 2019

Shelter Cymru acknowledges the support of Shelter in allowing us to adapt their content. The information contained on this site is updated and maintained by Shelter Cymru and only gives general guidance on the law in Wales. It should not be regarded or relied upon as a complete or authoritative statement of the law.