Power to modify retained direct EU legislation relating to social security co-ordination

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 16 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:25, 16 Mehefin 2020

Good morning, Sir Edward. It is a pleasure once again to serve under your chairmanship. Social security arrangements set out in EU regulation 883 of 2004 and elsewhere are currently directly applicable in the UK. They cover the co-ordination of social security, healthcare and pension provision for people who are publicly insured who move from one EU state to another.

The regulations ensure that individuals who move to another EEA are covered by the social security legislation of only one country at a time and are, therefore, liable only to make contributions in one country; that a person has the rights and obligations of the member state where they are covered; that periods of insurance, employment or residence in other member states can be taken into account when determining a person’s eligibility for benefits; and that a person can receive benefits that they are entitled to from one member state, even if they are resident in another.

The co-ordination regulations cover only those social security benefits that provide cover against certain categories of social risk, such as sickness, maternity, paternity, unemployment and old age. Some non-contributory benefits fall within the regulations but cannot be exported, and benefits that are social and medical assistance are not covered at all. Universal credit, for example, is excluded.

As we heard from Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe in his oral evidence to the Committee last week, most UK nationals resident in the EU are of working age. It is important to note that the number of people claiming the working-age benefits that are covered by the regulations—jobseeker’s allowance or employment and support allowance—has declined sharply since the introduction of universal credit. We might therefore expect social security co-ordination arrangements to apply to a declining number of working-age adults. The regulations will, however, still be of importance for a sizeable number of individuals, and not least for pensioners.

The co-ordination regulations also confer a right on those with a European health insurance card to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare during a temporary state in another EEA state. The home member state is normally required to reimburse the host country for the cost of the treatment. Under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, protection of healthcare entitlements is linked to entitlement to cash benefits.

Clause 5(1) provides an appropriate authority with the power to modify the co-ordination regulations by secondary legislation. The power is very broad, placing no limits on the modifications that appropriate authorities are able to make to the co-ordination regulations. By virtue of subsection (3), the power explicitly

“includes power—

(a) to make different provision for different categories of person to whom they apply…

(b) otherwise to make different provision for different purposes;

(c) to make supplementary…consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provision;

(d) to provide for a person to exercise a discretion in dealing with any matter.”

The power is further enhanced by subsection (4), which provides for the ability to amend or repeal

“primary legislation passed before, or in the same Session as, this Act” and other retained direct EU legislation.

Since the UK left the EU at the end of January this year, the relevant EU regulations pertaining to social security, pensions and healthcare have been retained in UK law by section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I accept that the Government need to be able to amend co-ordination regulations to remedy deficiencies in them resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU, but the 2018 Act already contains a power in section 8 to modify direct retained EU law. Indeed, the Government have already exercised this power for four of the co-ordination regulations. Any changes that do not fall within the scope of the power in section 8 of the 2018 Act must necessarily, therefore, not relate to any ability for the law to operate efficiently or to remedy defects, but be intended to achieve wider policy objectives. I think the Minister acknowledged as much in his opening comments.

I was, however, surprised that the Minister said that only the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provided such powers. My reading of the legislation is that the Secretary of State has further powers as regards social security, healthcare and pension rights for those who are protected by the withdrawal agreement under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. Section 5 of that Act inserts new section 7A into the 2018 Act so as to secure withdrawal agreement rights in domestic law, and that protection is buttressed by section 13 of the 2020 Act, which confers a power to make regulations in respect of social security co-ordination rights protected by the withdrawal agreement. Given the powers that already exist under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act, as well as the fact that those powers have already been used by the Government, why does the Minister feel they are inadequate?

Paragraph 30 of the delegated powers memorandum is instructive. It states that the Government want to use the power in clause 5 to

“respond flexibly to the outcome of negotiations on the future framework and make changes to the retained social security co-ordination rules.”