Who gets more, pensioners or refugees?

19 April 2018
What was claimed

Illegal immigrants or refugees living in Britain get a total yearly benefit of £29,900.

Our verdict

Illegal immigrants cannot collect benefits, and refugees can on the same basis as UK nationals once their request for asylum is granted—but this figure is unusually high.

What was claimed

British old age pensioners who have worked for 45 years get a total yearly benefit of £6,000.

Our verdict

A British pensioner with 45 years’ worth of national insurance contributions is likely to earn at least £500 a year more than this, and be eligible for more benefits on top.

An image claiming that ‘illegal immigrants’ and refugees can claim a much larger yearly benefit than British pensioners has been widely distributed online, and several of our readers have asked us to factcheck it.

It’s very similar to something that went viral six years ago that we factchecked at the time, albeit with slightly different figures.

British pensioners who have worked for 45 years are likely to get a minimum payout of £6,500 a year, so more than the number in the picture. Those subject to immigration control aren’t eligible for most benefits, and although refugees can claim the same benefits as UK nationals, the figure quoted is unrealistically high.

In 2015, the House of Commons Library wrote about a similar claim circulated via email that quoted the same figures with slightly different accompanying text. The library said “The figures quoted bear no relation whatsoever to the situation in the United Kingdom”.  

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How much can these groups actually collect?

The image mentions a “total yearly benefit” for pensioners, which looks like it is referring to their pension.  Pensioners can also be eligible for other benefits, like winter fuel payments, means-tested benefits like pension credit, and a free TV license.

If the pensioner in their example is a man born before April 6 1951 or a woman born before April 6 1953, they can claim the basic state pension. A full basic state pension is £125.95 a week, which amounts to around £6,500 per year. This excludes any top ups to the state pension.  

The image mentions this pensioner has worked for 45 years, so we can assume they have the 30 qualifying years of national insurance contributions.

If the pensioner was born after those dates, they can claim the new state pension, which is £164.25 in full, which per year is around £8,500. People need to have 35 years of national insurance payments to qualify for this amount. This excludes any protected payments, which is extra money older workers entitled to the new state pension may have amassed under the old system.

Regardless of when they were born, assuming this pensioner has worked for 45 years, they have 45 years of national insurance contributions and are likely to be eligible for more than the £6,000 a year claimed.

What can ‘illegal immigrants’ claim?

In response to a 2016 petition asking the government to ‘Stop all benefits to illegal immigrants completely’, the government said: “Illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers are not entitled to, and do not get, benefits from the UK’s welfare system”.

In its debunking paper for the email, the House of Commons Library defines illegal immigrants as those who entered the UK unlawfully or stayed for longer than they were allowed without applying to stay longer.

Those in the UK without legal status are likely to be removed if their immigration status is discovered by the authorities. They inherently do not have the right to work in the UK and we don’t have figures for those that do so anyway.

As a result of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, only people with the right to work in the UK can collect National Insurance contribution based benefits like jobseeker’s and employment and support allowance, and work related benefits like statutory maternity pay.

People subject to immigration control (who require leave to enter or remain in the UK but don’t have it) are also prevented from collecting payments like housing and child benefit, and universal credit.

What can refugees claim?

The term refugees refers to asylum seekers whose applications for asylum have been successful. According to a House of Commons research briefing, refugees “are able to claim social security benefits and tax credits on the same basis as UK nationals”.

That means they would theoretically be eligible for the same kinds of pensions as the British pensioners described above would, although aren’t as likely to have built up the required national insurance contributions if they arrived in adulthood.

The £29,900 figure quoted in the image is unusually high—the benefits cap means the maximum payment of certain types of benefits to a couple or single person with children in London is £23,000 per household.

Refugees in this image may refer to asylum seekers who are still awaiting a decision on their asylum application to remain here. To be eligible for asylum, someone must be unable to live safely in their country out of fear of persecution because of characteristics like race, religion or political opinions that put them at risk there.

Asylum seekers who are waiting for a decision are not allowed to claim mainstream non-contributory social security benefits, and are not usually allowed to work either.

But they may be eligible for asylum support from the Home Office, which parliament described as “less generous than social security benefits” in its debunking briefing.

This support can consist of somewhere to live (which they cannot choose and is unlikely to be in London or the South East), plus £37.75 per person in the household a week. They can also get £3-5 per week per pregnant mother, baby and child under three, and may qualify for a one off maternity payment of £300. 

The origins of this claim

The House of Commons Library said the claim they checked in 2015, which was spread by email, may have originated from a similar message circulated in Australia.

The government there subsequently debunked it, but there have also been similar versions in Canada and India with some details changed.

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