Easier access to benefits for family members of people from Northern Ireland

People from Northern Ireland will soon be able to sponsor non-European family members under the light-touch EU Settlement Scheme. The government has recently passed a separate but related measure: the Social Security (Income-Related Benefits) (Persons of Northern Ireland – Family Members) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. The aim of the regulations is to enable such family members to claim benefits in Great Britain “on broadly the same terms as family members of citizens of the Republic of Ireland”.

An accompanying memo explains:

Family members of citizens of the Republic of Ireland granted [pre-settled status] under the EU Settlement Scheme can access income-related benefits if the Irish citizen is exercising a qualifying EU treaty right, meaning that they are a worker, self-employed person, self-sufficient person or student, or that they have acquired a right of permanent residence or if they are a family member who has retained a right of residence. This instrument will make amendments so that a family member of a person of Northern Ireland in a comparable situation can also access income-related benefits.

Income-related benefits include Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit and Universal Credit. The family member of a “relevant person of Northern Ireland” will be able to rely on pre-settled status granted under Appendix EU as a right to reside. This is provided that, essentially, the Northern Ireland-born sponsor would be considered to be exercising treaty rights if they had been an EU migrant.

The regulations come into force on 24 August 2020, the same date as the new Northern Ireland-specific sponsorship rules.

In this regard it is worth mentioning that back in January 2020, the government of Boris Johnson published a new immigration program, under which residents of Northern Ireland can sponsor non-European spouses and other family members, applying under the scheme called “EU Settlement Scheme”. In this case, it will be possible because people from the Republic of Ireland can do it, and the principle is to put the residents of Northern Ireland in an “equal” or “same” position. This program means that eligible family members of Northern Ireland residents will be able to apply for UK immigration status under the same conditions as family members of Irish citizens in the UK.

This immigration status will be available to family members of all residents of Northern Ireland, regardless of whether they have British or Irish citizenship or both, and regardless of how they identify themselves.

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