A former student asked me if I’d comment on a particular case reported in last week’s press. A girl from Preston with serious disabilities has been denied DLA because her father is working in Germany. The picture shows her mother’s response.
The rules are complex. When people are working in EU countries, they generally their benefits from the ‘competent state, which will usually be the place where someone works. There’s a long list of benefits which are covered in these rules: DLA care component is treated (oddly) as if it was contributory, and DLA mobility component is treated as a ‘special non-contributory benefit’, but the upshot of it is that only the competent state will be liable to pay. That’s the position, then, which has led to the DWP claiming that Germany should be paying in this case.
The rule doesn’t make any sense. Consider it first from the perspective of the operation of benefits in the UK. Some benefits are income tested; many aren’t. People’s pension does not go up or down because they have an occupational pension – or because they have overseas investments. DLA is non-contributory and non-means tested; it isn’t affected because people have a court settlement, or an industrial injuries benefit, or a war pension. So why should it change if people get a benefit in Germany as well – or if they don’t?
Next, consider it from the perspective of the European Union. Benefits are not like residential care units, where people can only get one place at a time; people can draw income from several sources. The European Union has been trying to develop networks of solidarity that cut across national boundaries. Pensioners commonly get money from government and from occupational pension funds. That’s what European integration means. So a rule that leads to benefits stopping at national borders undermines one of the central principles of the single market.
I think the DWP’s interpretation in this case is doubtful, and it may well be challenged in the courts before long. It looks too as if they’ve suspended benefits on the basis that Germany ought to accept liability for a non-resident disabled person, in circumstances where the UK itself wouldn’t. There’s an evident problem in introducing rules that are so obscure that the DWP itself gets it wrong on its first go and where no-one has any hope of working out what ought to happen unless it goes to court. This is bad practice in every sense, and it ought to stop here.