Data on migrants' benefits: statistics watchdog highlights time lag

8 February 2016 | Phoebe Arnold

In November the Prime Minister claimed that 43% of EU migrants rely on UK benefits during their first four years in the country, costing UK taxpayers £530 million in 2013.

The information to back some of this up was not released until 5pm that day, after the claims had received widespread coverage in the news. Even then, the information released did not fully substantiate the claims.

Just before Christmas it emerged that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) had refused a Freedom of Information request from the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) relating to these claims.

Full Fact wrote to the UK Statistics Authority about our concerns that this information had not been released at a time when benefits for EU migrants were a major topic of public debate.

Today the UK Statistics Authority wrote back to us:

“It is not the role of the UK Statistics Authority to comment on whether the Freedom of Information Act has been complied with, but we have examined this issue with regard to the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. There is nothing in the Code that would be an obstacle to releasing data which addressed these questions. In addition, releasing such information would support the principle of equality of access to statistics.

“We have been in contact with HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to discuss data on active National Insurance Numbers (NINos) allocated to EU citizens. We were informed that such data were not straightforward to assemble. To do so requires linking data between two large databases (one held by DWP and the other held by HMRC).

“While I am pleased to note that on 4 February part of the information requested by Mr Portes was provided, it is disappointing that this was two months after the release of the ad hoc release referred to in Mr Portes’ FOI request. Such a delay is not in keeping with the spirit of equality of access which the Code of Practice promotes.”

Here is the FOI response that was given to NIESR last week.

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