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‘I've come to the UK from abroad’
> ‘I am a citizen of another country in the European Economic Area, or I'm a family member of an EEA citizen’
            A Brief History Lesson

In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was signed: this set up the European Union as we know and love it today (although then it was called the European Economic Community (the EEC)). It set out how member countries of the EU had to behave, and what they could expect of the other countries in the Union. It still forms the basis for the EU today, but a number of other treaties and instructions (called directives) have been made since, to clarify issues that the original treaty didn’t make clear, and to deal with issues that have arisen since 1957.

Among other things, the Treaty of Rome gave workers the right of free movement around the Union to citizens of EU countries. This meant that anyone who was a worker and moved to another EU country to work or look for work was entitled to everything that a citizen of that country was entitled to, including all the same social security benefits.

The UK joined the EU in 1973, and was then bound by all the requirements of the Treaty and the other treaties and directives that followed.

In 1994 the European Economic Area (EEA) was established. The European Economic Area consists of all the countries in the European Union, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway. The extra countries are not members of the EU, but for our purposes they might as well be. A similar agreement applies to Switzerland. From now on whenever I say the EEA you should strictly read this as ‘the EEA and Switzerland’.

Until 2004 things were fairly straightforward. The UK government made all social security benefits available to workers (including people looking for work), which it had no choice about, and also made these benefits available to other EEA nationals in the UK, even if they were not workers. The only difficulty was that if a person wasn’t a worker they couldn’t always get benefits straightaway.

Then in 2004 there were three big changes:

(To be absolutely correct, the UK changed these rules again in 2006, and it is the 2006 rules that now apply, but all it really did was to make things a bit clearer and remove some loopholes.)

Obviously all three things are linked: with the enlargement it was even more important that everyone in the EEA knew exactly what people’s rights were, and the British government was presumably worrying about people from the new EU countries coming to the UK.

The detail of what the UK government did is complicated, but basically it amounts to this:

The legal framework that these changes created still applies now, but there are still some developments that we need to look at to bring things up to date.

However, as anyone not living under a rock will be aware, the removal of restrictions to Bulgarians and Romanians caused a lot of controversy in the media, and in politics. As a result some changes were made to the rules which create extra restrictions for people from the EEA. The main ones are as follows:

You might wonder why all these measures seem to be targeted at people who are looking for work, and not those who unable to work because of sickness, disability, age, or caring responsibilities. The reason is simple: people from these groups and who have recently arrived from the EEA are not generally entitled to benefits already. For most recent arrivals from the EEA, the only option is Jobseeker's Allowance.