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Check if you have the right to reside

This advice applies to Wales

If you’re from the EU or European Economic Area (EEA) and want to claim certain benefits in the UK, you need to have settled status or a ‘right to reside’. The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. You might also be able to claim benefits if you’re from Switzerland.

If you’ve lived in the UK for 5 years or more

You can apply for ‘settled status’. If you have settled status you can apply for benefits. You won’t need to show you have a right to reside.

To get settled status you need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. Check how to apply for settled status.

Showing you have a right to reside

If you don’t have settled status you’ll need to show you have a right to reside to claim benefits. 

You can have a right to reside for different reasons - for example, because of things like your work or your family. You don’t need a right to reside to stay in the UK.

You’ll have to give evidence to prove your right to reside when you apply for benefits. You might need to include this evidence with your application form or take it to an interview.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help proving your right to reside.

Your benefits might stop if you don’t have settled status by 31 December 2020.

Passing the habitual residence test

Proving your right to reside is part of a test you might need to pass to claim benefits in the UK, including Universal Credit. This is called the ‘habitual residence test’. To pass this test, you’ll need to show you’ve made the UK your home and plan to stay here.

You don’t need to pass the habitual residence test if you have:

  • settled status
  • certain types of right to reside - for example, if you’re working or self-employed

Proving a right to reside you have

You might have a right to reside because of what you’ve been doing in the UK.

You only need to show you have one type of right to reside. Some types of right to reside give you more rights than others - for example, you can claim more benefits if you’re working than if you’re a jobseeker.

If you’re working

If you can prove you’ve earned an average of more than £162 a week for at least 3 months, you’ll have a right to reside as a worker.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to show evidence that proves you’re working.

Use evidence that shows as many different types of personal information as possible, such as your name, date of birth, address and National Insurance number. Use evidence like:

  • payslips
  • tax documents - for example, your P60 or P45
  • employment contracts
  • letters or emails from your employer - for example, a job offer

If you earn less than £162 a week

You can can still prove you have a right to reside as a worker.

You’ll need to give lots of details about what you do, including:

  • when you started your job
  • how often you work and for how many hours
  • your earnings
  • if you have an employment contract

The person who makes a decision about your benefits claim will look at all these details to decide if you have a right to reside as a worker.

You might hear this described as checking your work is ‘genuine and effective’.

If you work different hours each week or have a zero-hours contract

You can still prove you have a right to reside as a worker.

The person who makes a decision about your benefits will look at all the details of what you do, including how much you earn, how many hours you work and how regularly you work.

You’re more likely to have a right to reside as a worker if you work regularly - even if your hours change each week.

If you haven’t got any of this evidence

Get help to find other ways to prove you’ve been working.

If you're self-employed

If you can prove you’ve made an average profit of more than £162 a week for at least 3 months, you’ll have a right to reside as a ‘self-employed person’.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to show evidence that proves you’re self-employed.

If you’ve only been self-employed for a short time, you’ll still have a right to reside if you can show you’ve taken steps to start working - for example, by advertising your services and looking for work.

Use evidence like:

  • adverts you’ve used to promote your services - for example, a leaflet or social media post
  • letters and emails that show you’ve been looking for new work opportunities
  • proof you’ve registered as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs - for example, letters or emails confirming you’re registered
  • receipts and invoices for equipment you use in your work - for example, if you’re a decorator you could show you’ve bought paint, brushes and a ladder
  • bank statements for your work accounts

If you make less than £162 a week

You can still prove you’re self-employed. You’ll need to give lots of details about what you do, including:

  • when you started being self-employed
  • how often you work
  • how many hours you work
  • your average profit

The person who makes a decision about your benefits claim will look at all these details to decide if you have a right to reside because you’re self-employed.

You might hear this described as checking your work is ‘genuine and effective’.

If you don’t always work

You should be able to keep your right to reside as a self-employed person if you can prove you’re still running your business and looking for work. You’ll need to show you’re:

  • advertising your business
  • keeping your accounts up to date
  • trying to find new work opportunities

If you’ve had to stop working

You might be able to keep your right to reside as a worker or self-employed person. This is known as ‘retaining worker status’.

You might be able to retain your worker status if:

  • you’re made redundant
  • it’s difficult to keep working - for example, you ask to change your shifts so you can look after your child, but your employer says no

You need to be looking for work to retain your worker status - you can do this by registering as a jobseeker. The best way to register as a jobseeker is by claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance.

This is sometimes known as being ‘involuntarily unemployed’.

Registering as a jobseeker

It’s really important that you register as a jobseeker as soon as possible after you leave your job. If you don't, you might have to explain any gaps between leaving your job and registering as a jobseeker.

For example, if you waited 2 weeks to register as a jobseeker, you might have to show what you’ve been doing to look for work during that time.

If you can’t explain why you waited, you could lose your worker status. This means you might not be able to claim certain benefits.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to show evidence that proves you were working.

Use evidence like:

  • employment contracts
  • payslips
  • letters or emails from your employer - for example, a job offer
  • tax documents - for example, your P60 or P45
  • something that shows why you had to leave your job - for example, a redundancy letter

You might also need to prove you’re looking for work when you apply for certain benefits. Show evidence you’re registered as a jobseeker - for example, letters or emails from the Jobcentre.

How long you can retain your worker or self-employed status

After you stop working, you can retain your worker status for up to 6 months.

After that, you’ll need to have another type of right to reside - for example, through a family member or by finding work.

If you were in your job for more than 1 year, you might be able to retain your worker status for up to 9 months. You’ll need to pass a test to prove you have a good chance of getting a new job - this is called the ‘genuine prospects of work’ test.

The Jobcentre will ask you to take the test. You’ll usually have to answer questions in an interview.

You’ll need to show what you’ve been doing to look for a job and how you’ve been improving your chances of finding one. For example:

  • emails and letters that show you’ve applied for jobs or had interviews
  • proof of relevant qualifications or training you’ve been doing, or that you’re planning to do
  • proof of any volunteering you’ve done to help you get a job - this could be a letter from the organisation you’re volunteering for

If you’ve been offered a new job

You might be able to retain your worker status for up to 9 months if you’ve been offered a new job but have to wait until it starts.

You’ll have to give evidence of your job offer to the Jobcentre - for example, a letter with your start date on.

If you’re pregnant or recently had a baby

You might be able to stop looking for work temporarily while you’re retaining worker status, without losing your right to reside.

You can stop looking for a job from around 11 weeks before your baby is born. You can then keep your worker status for up to 1 year (52 weeks) from when you stopped looking for work.

When you apply for benefits, you should make it clear you’re going to work or look for a job after your year is up. If you don’t, you might lose your retained worker status.

If you can’t work temporarily because of an illness or an accident

You might still keep your right to reside as a worker or self-employed person.

This is known as ‘retaining worker status’ or ‘retaining self-employed status’.

You’ll need to prove you’ll only be off work temporarily. There’s no time limit to this, but there needs to be good chance you’ll be well enough to go back to work in the future.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to prove you’re not well enough to do the work that you normally do.

Get a fit note (sometimes called a ‘sick note’) from a GP that says why you can’t work.

If you're pregnant and stop working

If you’re on maternity leave

If you’re not working because you’re on maternity leave, you still have a right to reside as a worker.

If you leave your job

If you leave your job towards the end of your pregnancy or soon after your baby’s been born, you might be able to keep your right to reside as worker.

This is known as ‘retaining worker status’.

You can retain your worker status for up to 52 weeks (1 year) from when you stop working.

You can stop working from around 11 weeks before your baby is due to be born. You can then retain your worker status for up to 1 year (52 weeks) from when you stopped working.

When you apply for benefits, you should make it clear you’re going to work or look for a job again after your year is up. If you don’t, you might lose your retained worker status.

If you're looking for work

You might have a right to reside as a ‘jobseeker’.

As a jobseeker, you can only claim Child Benefit.

Check if any other types of right to reside could apply to you - you'll usually be able to claim more benefits.

If you have a job but you’re looking for work, you should check if you have a right to reside as a worker.

Getting the right evidence

If you apply for Child Benefit, you’ll need to show evidence you’re looking for a job and have a good chance of finding one. For example, emails or letters that show you’ve been applying for jobs, or proof of any relevant qualifications or work experience.

Check how long you can be a jobseeker

You can be a jobseeker for up to 3 months (91 days).

You can split this time across more than 1 period as a jobseeker. For example, if you spent 1 month looking for a job before you found one, you could still spend 2 more months as a jobseeker if you needed to in the future.

You might be able to extend your 3 months by a short period if you can prove you’re likely to get a job. This is called the ‘genuine prospects of work test’.

The Jobcentre will ask you to take the test. You’ll usually have to answer questions in an interview.

You’ll need to show what you’ve been doing to look for a job and how you’ve been improving your chances of finding one. For example:

  • emails and letters that show you’ve applied for jobs or had interviews
  • proof of relevant qualifications or training you’ve been doing (or that you’re planning to do)

  • proof of any volunteering you’ve done to help you get a job - this could be a letter from the organisation you’re volunteering for

If you’ve had to leave your job

You don’t automatically get a new 3 month period as a jobseeker - but you can keep your right to reside as a worker while you look for work.

This is called ‘retaining worker status’. You can retain your worker status for up to 6 months.

If you leave the UK for more than 1 year

You can start a new 3 month period as a jobseeker.

Proving a right to reside from a family member

You might have a right to reside because of your family member.

A family member can be your:

  • husband or wife
  • civil partner
  • parents or grandparents, if you’re under 21 - this includes your husband, wife or civil partner’s
  • parents or grandparents, if you’re over 21 and depend on them to live - this includes your husband, wife or civil partner’s
  • child or grandchild, if you rely on their support to live - this includes your husband, wife or civil partner’s

You might also have a right to reside if you’re caring for a child who’s in education - this is called a ‘derivative’ right to reside.

If a member of your family has a right to reside

You might have a right to reside as their family member and have the same right to claim benefits as them. They also need to be from the EEA.

For example, if your husband, wife or civil partner is working in the UK, you’ll have a right to reside as the family member of a worker, even if you’re unemployed.

Any change to your family member’s right to reside will affect yours - for example, if they lose their job, you might lose the right to reside as the family member of a worker.

You might also have the right to reside because of other family members, such as brothers and sisters. These are known as ‘extended family members’.

The rules are complicated so get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice.

If your family member is a British citizen

The rules are different.

You won’t automatically have a right to reside because of a British family member.

The rules are complicated so get advice from your nearest Citizens Advice.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to prove your family member’s right to reside - for example, with employment contracts and payslips if they’re a worker.

You’ll also need to show evidence of your relationship to them, such as birth or marriage certificates.

If you’ve split up with your husband, wife or civil partner

If you’re still married or in a civil partnership with them, you’ll keep your right to reside as their family member.

If you’ve had a right to reside as their family member for at least 5 years, you might have a permanent right to reside.

If you’re divorced or have ended your civil partnership

You won’t have a right to reside as their family member any more.

Check which other types of right to reside could apply to you. You might have a permanent right to reside if you were married or in a civil partnership with them for at least 5 years.

If you can’t get evidence from your partner

You can get help if you’re having trouble getting evidence of your ex-partner’s right to reside.

If you’re caring for a child who’s in education

You might have a right to reside if you’re caring for a child or young person who:

  • is in education - this doesn’t include pre-school or nursery and it usually ends when they’re 18
  • has a parent or step-parent from the EEA who has worked in the UK - this doesn’t need to be you
  • was in the UK while their parent was working

This is called a ‘derivative’ right to reside.

You must be the child’s ‘primary carer’. This means you’re:

  • their parent, grandparent or legal guardian
  • you’re responsible for looking after them and they wouldn’t be able to stay in the UK if you had to leave

You can still be a primary carer if you look after the child with someone else.

Example

Jakub and Lena are from Poland and have been living in the UK. They’re married and have a child who is 5 years old and in school. Jakub has a right to reside as a worker because he has a job. Lena doesn’t work, but she has a right to reside as the family member of a worker because she’s married to Jakub.

Jakub and Lena get divorced and Jakub moves back to Poland. Lena loses the right to reside she got from her husband, but can get a derivative right to reside from her child.

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to prove:

  • one of the child’s parents or step-parents is working or has worked in the UK - for example, with payslips, P60s or P45s, or a letter from an employer
  • you’re the child’s primary carer - for example, by showing you live together
  • your relationship to the child you’re the primary carer for - for example, with a birth certificate
  • that the child you’re caring for is in education - for example, with a letter from their school

Proving you have a derivative right to reside can be difficult - contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you need help.

Getting a permanent right to reside

A derivative right to reside won’t help you get a permanent right to reside in the UK - it doesn’t count towards the 5 years of having a right to reside that you need to become a permanent resident.

Check which other types of right to reside could apply to you.

If a family member is joining you in the UK

Your family member might also have a right to reside because of their relationship to you. This means they’ll have the same right to claim benefits as you. 

Any change to your right to reside will affect theirs. For example, if you have a right to reside because you’re working, they’ll have the right the reside as the family member of a worker.

Make sure you know what right to reside you have. If your family member wants to apply for benefits, they’ll need to give evidence of your right to reside.

Proving a permanent right to reside

You might have a permanent right to reside if you’ve been in the UK for 5 years or more. You can sometimes get a permanent right to reside in less than 5 years - for example, if you retire or can’t work any more because you’re ill.

You’ll lose your permanent right to reside if you spend 2 years outside the UK without gaps.

If you’ve been in the UK for 5 years or more

You might have a permanent right to reside.

You’ll need to prove you’ve spent 5 years in the UK without gaps and with a right to reside as:

  • a worker or self-employed person
  • someone who’s had to stop working but has kept their worker status (known as ‘retained worker status’)
  • a jobseeker
  • someone who can support themselves financially (know as being ‘self-sufficient’)
  • a student who is self-sufficient
  • the family member of someone with a right to reside

You can count more than one type of right to reside towards your 5 years.

For example, you might have a permanent right to reside if you’ve spent 4 years working, 6 months retaining your worker status and 6 months as the family member of someone who’s working.

If you’ve spent time outside the UK

During your 5 years, you can have short gaps outside the UK, including:

  • up to 6 months outside the UK each year
  • one gap of up to 12 months outside the UK for very important reasons - for example, pregnancy or childbirth, serious illness or time spent working abroad

Getting the right evidence

When you apply for benefits, you’ll need to give evidence for all 5 years that you had a right to reside in the UK.

If it’s difficult to get the evidence and you need money quickly, you should try to prove another type of right to reside.

If it’s easy to get evidence for your 5 years, you should prove you have a permanent right to reside when you apply for benefits. For example, if you have 5 or more years of payslips and tax documents from your job, include copies of them with your benefits application.

Proving you have a permanent right to reside can be complicated. Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice - an adviser can help you gather the right evidence to prove it.

If you’re from a country that joined the EU after 2004

There used to be special rules about your right to reside in the UK.

The rules have now ended but they might have affected your right to reside in the past. This is important if you’re trying to prove you have a permanent right to reside because of what you’ve done in the past.

The countries affected by the special rules are:

  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Czech Republic
  • Estonia
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia

People from these countries are sometimes known as A8 nationals or A2 nationals.

The special rules are complicated. If you're from one of these countries and want to prove you have a permanent right to reside, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

If you retire

You might have a permanent right to reside when you reach State Pension age or retire early if:

  • you’ve had a right to reside in the UK for 3 years or more and you worked for 1 year before you retired
  • your husband, wife or civil partner is a UK citizen

If you can’t work any more because an illness or an accident

You might have a permanent right to reside if you’ve been ill or had an accident and you can’t work any more.

This is known as ‘permanent incapacity’.

If you can’t work any more because of permanent incapacity, you might have a permanent right to reside if:

  • you’ve had a right to reside in the UK for 2 years or more
  • your accident or illness was caused by something that happened at work and you’re entitled to benefits because of it
  • your husband, wife or civil partner is a UK citizen

If you can’t prove your right to reside

Find out what to do if you’re having trouble gathering evidence to prove your right to reside.

Next steps

If you can prove you have a right to reside, you might also need to show you plan to settle in the UK when you claim benefits. You do this by passing the habitual residence test.

You don’t need to pass the habitual residence test if you have a right to reside because you:

  • are a worker or self-employed person
  • are the family member of a worker or self-employed person
  • have retained your worker or self-employed status
  • got a permanent right to reside in less than 5 years - for example, because you retired or can’t work any more because of illness or an accident

If you have another type of right to reside, you’ll have to pass the habitual residence test to claim:

  • Universal Credit
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Personal Independence Payments

Check if you can pass the habitual residence test

You don’t need to take the habitual residence test for Child Benefit.

Find out more about Child Benefit

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