Claiming benefits after living abroad

I’m a British citizen but I was living in Australia for some time. While I was there I was on disability support, but now I've returned from abroad to the UK I don't know if I'm eligible for any benefits. Can you tell me if I can claim anything? The rules and regulations around benefit entitlement after returning from abroad to the UK are pretty complicated and eligibility is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Habitual Residence Test (HRT)

If you’re returning from abroad to the UK, it sounds like the first hurdle you’ll need to jump is the Habitual Residence Test (HRT), which aims to establish whether you intend to settle here for the foreseeable future.

The purpose of the test is to stop someone claiming social benefits immediately when they enter the UK. Most applicants for local authority housing or welfare benefits have to pass it, although there are some exceptions. The test applies to British citizens who lived abroad and are returning to live in the UK as well as to people who have never lived in the UK previously.

If you fail the HRT then you’ll be treated as a ‘person from abroad’ and not be entitled to means-tested benefits such as Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) – which used to be the main benefit payment for people unable to work or who are out of work. You also need to pass the HRT to claim Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support.

Universal credit when returning from abroad to UK

It is important to note that Universal Credit has now replaced these benefits for most people:

  • Housing Benefit
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income Support

Whether you should be applying for Universal Credit depends on which local authority you reside in, but either way you’ll have to pass the HRT. Even as a British citizen, if you don’t pass this test you could be ineligible for any benefits until it’s established that you have become habitually resident.

When you make a claim, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and/or Local Authority will ask for information about your time in Australia, the links you maintained with the UK, what links you retain with Australia, and what steps you took before coming back to the UK. The aim is to establish whether you have a settled intention to remain in the UK for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the test is very subjective, so it’s not possible to say whether you’ll pass or not. You may well have to wait anything from a few weeks to several months – depending on your circumstances – before it will be accepted that you’re habitually resident.

Disability benefits after returning to the UK

There is another disability benefit that can be paid in addition to the above benefits and is specifically for people who need help with mobility and personal care. It’s called the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – this replaces the old Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – which you can currently only apply for if you’re under 16. Unfortunately, to claim PIP you need to have been in Great Britain for two out of the past three years (unless you’re terminally ill), so it sounds like you may need to wait a while before you’ll be eligible. You would also need to show that you are habitually resident here.

As you can see, you will be able to claim, but you’ll have to pass the residence tests first. This depends on how long you lived in Australia – the longer your absence from the UK the more difficult it will be for you to claim in the short-term.

If you need further advice on benefits or other matters such as how long can you go abroad for on benefits, you can search for local organisations and national helplines using The Mix’s Find Local Services here.

Next Steps

  • Use the Turn2Us calculator to work out what benefits and grants you're entitled to, or call their helpline on 0808 802 2000
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