More than 100,000 migrants from Eastern Europe will be able to claim benefits in the UK after safeguards put in place seven years ago must be scrapped in May 2011.
The Labour government introduced the safeguards when it opened its doors to citizens of the then new EU member states seven years ago. They were intended to protect the benefits system from possible abuse. The government feared an influx of migrants from the poorest countries who would take advantage of the welfare system in the UK.
The safeguards meant migrants from eight Easter European countries could not claim jobseekers' allowance, housing benefit, or council tax benefit unless they had worked continuously for twelve months.
Because of the nature of their employment, which is usually casual or seasonal, many of them did not qualify for state benefits.
However, EU law states that governments must scrap restrictions on citizens of new member states seven years after they are implemented. Therefore the coalition government must now prepare for the possible payment of tens of millions of pounds in benefits to newly qualified Eastern European migrants.
In order to qualify for benefits, the applicants must show they have completed some work in the UK and are looking for more work, and intend to stay here.
The Department for Work and Pensions said their first priority is to ensure the benefits system is protected from possible abuse.
Critics of the measures welcome their removal, as they believe they have contributed to the lack of integration of Eastern Europeans into society, and have left them vulnerable to exploitation.