‘Illegal immigrants’ don’t get an average £26,000 a year in benefits

26 May 2023
What was claimed

After paying National Insurance for 35 years, UK pensioners receive £6,800 a year.

Our verdict

This is inaccurate. While the amount pensioners receive in state pension varies depending on age and National Insurance record, the full new state pension is £10,600 per year, while the full basic state pension is £8,122 per year.

What was claimed

“Illegal immigrants” receive on average £26,000 a year in unearned benefits.

Our verdict

This isn’t true. People who are in the UK without a legal right to be there are not entitled to claim any benefits. Asylum seekers, including those who arrive in the UK on small boats, also can’t claim welfare benefits, but they do get limited financial support. Refugees are entitled to benefits on the same basis as UK nationals, but are unlikely to receive £26,000 due to the benefits cap.

An image shared on Facebook makes an inaccurate comparison between the financial support which pensioners and “illegal immigrants” receive.

It claims that “after paying National Insurance for 35 years, UK pensioners receive £6,800 a year” while “illegal immigrants will receive on average £26,000 a year in unearned benefits”.

These figures aren’t right. The amount UK pensioners receive in state pension varies depending on a number of factors, but pensioners entitled to the full amount receive significantly more than £6,800 per year.

People in the UK without a legal right to be here are not entitled to claim any benefits. Asylum seekers, including those who arrive in the UK on small boats, also can’t claim welfare benefits, but do receive some financial support from the government (though this amounts to substantially less than £26,000) as well as help with housing if they need it.

It’s not entirely clear when this image was first shared, but the claim that “UK residents are about to be made redundant in their millions” also lacks evidence. The unemployment rate in the UK is currently 3.9%—close to record lows—with approximately 1.3 million people unemployed.

Claims juxtaposing the financial support given to pensioners with that given to other groups have been circulating online in the UK and worldwide for many years. Sharing these kinds of misleading figures can undermine understanding of public policy and foster social division based on bad information. 

All of us can do something about this problem by taking time to look at such claims critically so that we do not share misinformation online that can promote hate. Social media companies also have a role to play to ensure they have effective and proportionate policies on false claims about migrants. 

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Pension payments

The amount of money pensioners receive in state pension varies depending on their age and National Insurance record.

The full basic state pension, which applies to men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953, is currently £156.20 per week (which works out as approximately £8,122 per year).

The full new state pension, which applies to those born later, is currently £203.85 per week (approximately £10,600 per year).

Some people who reached state pension age before 6 April 2016 also receive the additional state pension, the amount of which is determined by factors including earnings and how many years you paid National Insurance. UK workers often also have private occupational pensions to provide income in retirement.

The post also claims the amount UK pensioners receive is “the lowest pension in Europe”. It is true that, compared to many other European countries, a lower proportion of UK pensioners’ income comes from state pensions and benefits. But, as we’ve explained a number of times, comparing the UK pension system with that of other European countries is difficult, and not as straightforward as this post suggests.

“Illegal immigrants” aren’t entitled to benefits

While there’s no precise legal definition of an “illegal immigrant”, the term is often used to refer to people who are in the UK without a legal right to be there.

If you don’t have a right to be in the UK, you are not allowed to claim benefits or other public funds.

Asylum seekers can claim financial support

While the post doesn’t clarify what is meant by “illegal immigrants”, it’s possible that it’s intended to refer to people who have travelled to the UK by crossing the English Channel in a small boat in order to claim asylum. The photo accompanying the image shows a group of young men taking a selfie on or beside a stretch of open water.

Asylum seekers are not entitled to claim Universal Credit or other benefits while their claims are being considered by the Home Office.

However, they can receive help with housing, as well as limited financial support

We’ve previously fact checked a number of misleading claims about the amount of financial support asylum seekers receive.

Asylum seekers whose accommodation does not include food are entitled to a cash allowance of £45 per week for each person in a household (approximately £2,340 per person, per year). This allowance is loaded onto a debit card—known as an ASPEN card—each week, which can be used to withdraw cash to pay for things like food, toiletries and clothing.

For asylum seekers whose accommodation provides food, the allowance is £9.10 per week (around £470 per year).

There are also extra allowances for pregnant asylum seekers, or mothers of children under the age of three.

Asylum seekers whose cases are refused are also entitled to £45 per week loaded onto a payment card, which is conditional on accepting the government’s offer of accommodation. A one-off £250 maternity payment is also provided to mothers whose baby is due in 8 weeks or less, or is under 6 weeks old.

Refugees can be entitled to benefits

People who have been granted refugee status in the UK are entitled to claim benefits if eligible on the same basis as UK nationals.

The only specific form of government help available to refugees is a refugee integration loan: an interest-free loan of between £100 and £500 for individuals, or £100 and £780 for couples, which can help pay for things such as a rent deposit or rent, household items or education or training for work. 

It is theoretically possible that a refugee could claim £26,000 in benefits, just as a UK national could. However, as we’ve previously explained when fact checking similar claims, this is unlikely, as this would only be the case if they were exempt from the benefit cap

Under the benefit cap, the most that couples or single parents with children can claim is £1,835 per month (around £22,000 a year) outside Greater London or £2,110 per month (around £25,000 a year) within Greater London. This amount is lower if the applicant is living as a single adult.

Image courtesy of Sarah Agnew

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