If you are a British or Irish citizen you have a ‘right of abode' in the British Isles or the Irish Republic. The ‘right of abode’ is a term used in the law about your status. It means you are free from all immigration controls and have the right to live and work in the UK without any restrictions.
As a British or Irish citizen you are also a citizen of the European Union and as such have rights when you exercise your freedom of movement in the EU.
So a British citizen who has never left the UK does not have any ‘extra’ rights as a citizen of the EU. But once you leave the UK to use those rights in another EU country, you bring those rights back home with you. These rights are called ‘Surinder Singh’ rights (after the case that established them) and include the right to live in the UK with your family members, as defined in EU law.
If you are an Irish citizen living in the UK, you may have EU rights if you have an EU right to reside in the UK, which is created by working, studying, self-employment, etc. See the relevant pages for how this works, e.g. for European workers and self-employed people. If you have an EU right to reside then that carries with it other rights. For example, an Irish citizen working in the UK does not have to pass the ‘habitual residence test’ to be eligible for benefits or housing and has the right to live in the UK with his or her family members. But if you do not have any EU rights in the UK, your ‘right of abode’ takes precedence.
Different rules apply regarding your rights to housing and/or benefits if you are the family member of a British citizen.
If you have a form of British nationality which is not British citizenship (e.g. if you are from a UK overseas territory) your rights to housing and benefits are the same as any other non-European foreign national and depend on whether you have been granted indefinite leave or limited leave to be in the UK. You are not an EU citizen so you cannot acquire EU rights except as a family member (e.g. if you are the spouse of an EU national).
If you are a Commonwealth citizen with a ‘right of abode’ your rights to housing and benefits are the same as a British citizen. You are not an EU citizen so you cannot acquire EU rights except as a family member (e.g. if you are the spouse of an EU national).
If you are applying for a housing allocation or homlessness help, or for benefits, no matter what your nationality is you have to show that:
- you have a legal right to live in the UK; and
- you are habitually resident in the British Isles or the Republic of Ireland or are exempted from the habitual residence test.
If you are a British or Irish citizen who has always lived in the UK or Ireland then you meet these conditions. But the habitual residence condition may disqualify you from housing or benefits if you have lived abroad (i.e. you were habitually resident there) and are returning to the UK or if you are entering the UK for the first time (for example, if you acquired your citizenship through your parents).
You can of course apply for lettings in the private rented sector but from February 2016 in England all those applying for tenancies should be the subject of 'right to rent' checks. Even though your right to rent is automatic if you are a British or Irish citizen, you should still be asked to prove your nationality, for example by showing your passport.
If you are returning to the UK after having lived abroad you can satisfy the habitual residence test and qualify for housing and/or benefits in the following ways:
- Through actual habitual residence. This requires more than just physical presence: you must be actually resident here and there must be a degree of permanence about it. The word ‘habitual’ implies an intention to settle and make your home here. If you have recently entered the UK you can expect to be considered not habitually resident during your first few months but your case should be considered on its facts (for example, the length of time you have lived abroad and whether your absence was always intended to be temporary). Note that your habitual residence resumes immediately on your return if you have a single short absence (such as a holiday or visiting relatives).
- Returning from work in Europe. Your habitual residence resumes immediately on your return to the UK after a period of work in another EEA member state (other than the UK or the Republic of Ireland).
- Deported from another country. If you have been deported to the UK from another country, you do not have to be habitually resident (and are entitled) if you claim housing benefit or council tax rebate, or apply for housing or homelessness assistance.
- For HB only, if you get one of the following DWP benefits: state pension credit, income-related employment and support allowance, income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance.
- For CTR only, if you get one of the following DWP benefits: income-related employment and support allowance, income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance.
If you have not been living in the UK/Ireland for the past three months you are likely to be disqualified from jobseeker’s allowance but this should not affect your claim for HB/CTR provided you can show you are actually habitually resident. If you have been disqualified from HB/CTR because you do not qualify for JSA you should seek advice.