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British and Irish citizens - claiming benefits

If you're a UK or an Irish citizen coming to live in the UK from abroad you may want to claim certain means-tested benefits. Depending on how long you've been out of the country, you may have to satisfy the conditions of a test, known as the habitual residence test (HRT) before you're allowed to make a claim.

To meet the conditions of the test you must show:

  • you've a legal right to live in the UK and claim these benefits. This is called right to reside and
  • you intend to settle in the UK, Isle of Man, Channel Islands or Ireland (the 'common travel area') and make it your home for the time being. This is known as habitual residence.

This page explains whether you may need to satisfy the conditions of the HRT when you return to the UK.

Getting advice

Showing your right to reside and intention to settle in the UK can be difficult. If you're unsure about your rights and status you can get help from an adviser.

If you need more help

UK citizens

If you're a British citizen you have an automatic right to reside in the UK, as well as in Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. This is known as the common travel area and you will also be considered to be habitually resident in the UK if you've been living in any of these places.

However, if you have recently returned to the UK after a period living outside of the common travel area, you may have to show that you satisfy the habitual residence test in order to claim certain means-tested benefits. You will not be subject to the test if you have simply been on a long holiday or a gap year but if you've spent many years away and/or no longer have property or close family in the UK you are likely to be subject to the test.

The HRT looks at what ties you already have in the UK and what you are doing to make the UK the centre of your life. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or other benefit agencies will also want to know how much you have cut ties with the country where you were living before. You will be asked a series of questions tailored to your individual circumstances to try and find out this information. You should be ready to give as much evidence and documentation as you can if you are asked these type of questions.

The DWP, your local authority or HMRC will decide at what point you can be viewed as habitually resident, depending on how long you have been away, why you were abroad, and what ties you kept with the UK during this time.

Rules that came into force on 1 January 2014 mean that, if you are claiming income-based jobseeker's allowance and need to show that you are habitually resident, you cannot be viewed as habitually resident until you have been living in the UK or elsewhere in the common travel area for at least three months. This means that if you claim income-based jobseeker's allowance immediately on your return to the UK from outside this area you cannot receive this benefit for at least three months. Even after three months you will still have to show that you are habitually resident in the UK.

If you're planning to move back to the UK and you think you will need means-tested benefits and housing straight away, think about how you would cope if you can't meet the conditions of the HRT for three months or more

Irish citizens

Irish citizens automatically have a right to reside in the UK as part of the common travel area. If you were habitually resident in Ireland or any of the other places in the common travel area before you came to the UK, you will automatically satisfy the conditions of the HRT.

However, if you come to the UK from a country outside the common travel area, you will have to prove you're habitually resident here to meet those conditions. As with UK citizens returning from abroad, from 1 January 2014 you cannot satisfy the HRT in order to claim income-based jobseeker's allowance until you have been living in the UK for at least three months.

Next steps

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