The UK's EU membership fee

Last updated: 25 Feb 2016

The UK pays more into the EU budget than it gets back.

In 2015 the UK government paid £13 billion to the EU budget, and EU spending on the UK was £4.5 billion. So the UK’s ‘net contribution’ was estimated at about £8.5 billion.

Each year the UK gets an instant discount on its contributions to the EU—the ‘rebate’—worth almost £5 billion last year. Without it the UK would have been liable for £18 billion in contributions.

The UK doesn’t pay or "send to Brussels" this higher figure of £18 billion, or anything equivalent per week or per day. The rebate is applied straight away, so the UK never contributes this much.

The UK’s contributions to the budget vary from year to year. They’ve been larger recently than in previous decades.

UK contributions to the EU budget since 1973

A membership fee isn’t the same as the economic cost or benefit

Being in the EU costs money but does it also create trade, jobs and investment that are worth more?

We can be pretty sure about how much cash we put in, but it’s far harder to be sure about how much, if anything, comes back in economic benefits. “There is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal”, as the House of Commons Library says.

£55 million a day doesn't include the rebate and is not based on recommended figures

The claim that the UK’s membership fee is £55 million a day comes from the £20 billion annual UK payment to EU institutions listed in the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Pink Book. 

The ONS told us this isn’t the correct figure to use. It has another set of figures which actually represent official government payments, although this isn’t clear from the release.

The £20 billion figure includes payments to EU institutions by UK households, and so doesn’t represent what the government pays as a ‘membership fee’.

The Treasury has more up to date estimates than the ONS, and uses slightly different accounting methods. They show we paid in £13 billion in 2015.

We previously said that “it's reasonable to describe £55 million as our ‘membership fee’, but it ignores the fact that we get money back as well.”

This was based on the understanding that the rebate is paid up front and then sent back, which we now know is wrong.

£350 million a week doesn’t include the rebate but uses better figures

It’s also been claimed that we send £350 million a week to the EU. That also misses out the rebate, although is based on better figures for the UK’s contributions.

£350 million is what we would pay to the EU budget, without the rebate.

But the UK actually pays just under £250 million a week.

The UK Statistics Authority has said the EU membership fee figure of £19 billion a year, or £350 million a week, is "not an amount of money that the UK pays to the EU each year".

£500 billion cost since joining the EU has the same problem

A further claim is that, if you add up the UK’s payments to the EU budget since 1973, we’ve contributed nearly £500 billion in total.

It uses the correct ONS figures on official contributions, although the ONS published slightly revised figures earlier this week. It also factors in inflation to reflect the rise in prices over the last four decades.

But it still doesn’t account for our rebate, so doesn’t represent what we have actually paid. Applying the discount reduces the figure to about £380 billion, or £9 billion a year.

The UK gets money back

The government then gets some of that money back, mainly through payments to farmers and for poorer areas of the country such as Wales and Cornwall.

In 2015, the UK's ‘public sector receipts’ amounted to £4.5 billion

So overall we paid in £8.5 billion more than we got back, or £23 million a day. 

The Treasury figures note payments the EU makes directly to the private sector, such as research grants. In 2013, these were worth an estimated £1.4 billion, so including them could reduce our net contribution further still.

The money we get back will be spent on things the government may or may not choose to fund if we left the EU. It’s not enough to look at the net contribution in isolation because what we get back isn’t fully under our control.

Different figures from different sources

The Treasury's European Union Finances release provides the best figures for the UK’s contributions to the EU budget, according to the ONS.

The Treasury and ONS both publish figures on the subject, but they're slightly different. The ONS also publishes other figures on contributions to EU institutions which don't include all our payments or receipts, which complicates matters.

The ONS figures ultimately come from the Treasury, and the numbers aren't the same because they categorise and account for the payments differently.

The European Commission is still another source of information which shows lower contributions.

Correction 25 February 2016

We replaced the original article from 2014 with a more detailed explanation. We’ve corrected what we said about the claim that the UK’s EU ‘membership fee’ is £55 million a day, as noted in the text above.

Update 27 May 2016

We've added the UK Statistics Authority's views on the claim that we send "£350 million a week" to the EU.

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