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EEA nationals and family members

The rights of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and their family members to enter and live in the UK are set out in European law. This is often referred to as ‘free movement law’, or having a ‘right to reside’, or exercising 'treaty rights’.

The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. European law, including free movement rights, continues to apply in the UK throughout the transition period, which will end on 31 December 2020. After the transition period ends, the rights of EEA nationals and their family members to enter and live in the UK will be set out in the UK’s Immigration Rules, which currently apply to people who are non-EEA nationals. 

The UK Government has committed to provide EEA nationals, who are living in the UK by the end of the transition period, with residence rights to remain in the UK after free movement ends. EEA nationals and their family members will need to apply for leave to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme. Depending on how long the person has been living in the UK, they may be granted settled status (indefinite leave to remain) or pre-settled status (five years’ limited leave to remain). Applications must be made by 30 June 2021. A person who has pre-settled status will be able to apply for settled status after five years residence in the UK. The EU Settlement Scheme is currently operating in parallel to free movement law, so a person may have a European right to reside in the UK as well as holding settled or pre-settled status granted under the EU Settlement Scheme. 

EEA nationals and their family members (including those who are non-EEA nationals) can work in the UK and can claim benefits and housing assistance when they meet the relevant eligibility requirements. These rules are complex and benefit decision makers may need to make extensive enquiries into the person's circumstances.

The basic principles of the benefit eligibility rules, as they apply to EEA nationals, can be summarised as follows: 

  • A person who has been granted settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme will be eligible for benefits and housing assistance if they are habitually resident in the UK. 
  • A person who has been granted pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or who has not yet applied, must also show that they are exercising a European right to reside on a particular basis in order to qualify for benefits or housing assistance. For example, a person will be eligible if they are working, self-employed or recently stopped working or self-employment. They will also be eligible if they have acquired a permanent right of residence, or are the family member of an EEA national who is exercising a qualifying right to reside. 
  • A person who is not exercising a European right to reside will not be eligible for benefits. A person may be in this situation if they are unable to work due to a health issue, being homeless, or having caring responsibilities.
  • A person may find it difficult to prove that they qualify for benefits when they are unable to evidence that they are exercising a right to reside, for example, if they have undertaken casual cash-in-hand employment or have separated from a partner whose right to reside is relevant to their benefit application.

List of EEA national countries

The EEA is made up of all European Union (EU) member states, plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway. Switzerland is not in the EU or EEA but due to bilateral agreements, its citizens benefit from free movement rights. Swiss nationals are usually included when the term 'EEA national' is used to refer to a person's immigration position in the UK. 

Full list of EEA countries:  

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark    
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland (not EU member)
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lichtenstein (not EU member)
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Norway (not EU member)
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Romania
  • Slovenia
  • Spain 
  • Slovakia
  • Sweden

Terms

Habitually resident

Resident in a country/ area for an ‘appreciable period’ (usually of one to three months but can be shorter), with the intention to settle.