‘Illegal immigrants’ don’t receive more benefits than pensioners

30 January 2024
What was claimed

Pensioners get £6,000 a year in financial support from the government, while ‘illegal immigrants’ and refugees receive £29,900 a year.

Our verdict

These figures are wrong. Pensioners on the full ‘new’ state pension will get at least £10,600 a year in support from the government. People who do not have a legal right to be in the UK can’t claim public funds, though asylum seekers do get some other support, for example with accommodation. Like UK citizens, refugees (who have leave to remain in the country) are able to apply for Universal Credit and other benefits.

Posts on Facebook make a number of comparisons between the amounts of “financial assistance” provided by the “British Government” to pensioners and “illegal immigrants/refugees living in Britain”. 

The posts use a number of figures, but they all appear to be incorrect. The state pension is more than the posts claim, people in the UK illegally are not entitled to public funds and it’s unlikely refugees would receive as much Universal Credit as £30,000 a year. 

At Full Fact, we’ve seen posts like this before. We looked at them last year, and also saw them in 2019, 2018 and 2012

We’ve also written before about false or misleading claims circulating online regarding people who arrive in the country as migrants or asylum seekers. 

False or misleading claims online have the potential to harm individuals and groups. Online claims can spread fast and far and are difficult to contain and correct. Internet companies must take responsibility to ensure that they have clear and transparent policies on the treatment of misinformation on their platforms, and then apply them consistently.

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What does the post say? 

The posts tell people to “read and pass on”, and is addressed “Dear Prime Minister”.

List of claims about pensioners and people in the UK illegally

What is the state pension?

The posts say that pensioners receive a “weekly allowance” of £106, a “weekly spouse allowance” of £25, £0 for an “additional weekly hardship allowance” and says that a “British old aged pensioner” gets a “total yearly benefit” of £6,000. 

In the UK, men born on or after 6 April 1951, and women born on or after 6 April 1953 are eligible for the ‘new’ state pension, which, in full, is £203.85 a week (around £10,600 a year).  

The amount of the ‘new’ state pension someone receives depends on their National Insurance record. People need to have 35 qualifying years to get the full new state pension, and will receive a proportion of this if they’ve got between 10 and 35 years of payments on their record. 

Men born before 6 April 1951 and women born before 6 April 1953 receive the ‘basic’ state pension. They get £156.20 a week instead (around £8,122 a year), though they can be eligible for additional pension payments, depending on a number of factors

Can pensioners get more support?

People who have reached the state pension age cannot apply for Universal Credit, but some pensioners on low income may be eligible for benefits such as means-tested Pension Credit and Housing Benefit. They can also receive money through the Winter Fuel Payment,  and may be eligible for a free TV licence.

While we’ve not been able to find evidence of a £25 “weekly spouse allowance” for pensioners, married couples with one person over the age of 88 may be eligible for Married Couple’s Allowance, which could reduce the amount they pay in tax. If a pensioner is also a carer, they may be eligible for money through the Carer’s Allowance as well. 

Until April 2020, pensioners with a partner under State Pension age and financially dependent on them were able to apply for the State Pension Adult Dependency Increase. 

What support do people in the UK illegally get? 

The posts initially say that “Immigrants/refugees living in Britain” receive a weekly allowance of £250, before referring to this group as “Illegal immigrants/refugees living in Britain”. 

The post claims that this group receives a “weekly spouse allowance” of £225 and an “additional weekly hardship allowance” of £100, giving them a “total yearly benefit” of £29,900. 

If someone is in the country illegally, they do not have access to public funds, such as Universal Credit or the state pension. While the posts don’t give details on where the supposed payments for “illegal immigrants” come from, it’s unlikely they would receive the payments listed. 

What support do refugees get?

Someone who is granted refugee status and receives a biometric residence permit from the government is allowed to apply for the same benefits as British citizens, such as Universal Credit, under the same eligibility criteria.

The amount people receive in Universal Credit depends on their circumstances, and any other types of benefits they are receiving. The monthly standard allowance for a single-person household is either £292 for those under 25-years-old or £369 for over 25s. For couples under 25, the standard allowance is £459 and it’s £579 for over 25s. Weekly, this ranges between about £73 and £145. 

Some Universal Credit claimants are able to claim extra money on top of the standard allowance, providing they are eligible, such as some carers, people with children or those who are unable to work due to health reasons. 

It’s possible in theory that a refugee household could receive £29,900 a year in benefits, as UK nationals could. But this would only happen if they weren’t subject to the benefits cap, and received benefits for a range of reasons. 

Over the course of a year, the benefits cap amounts to around £14,800 for single adults outside Greater London, or £17,000 for a single adult in Greater London; £22,000 for couples or single parents whose children live with them outside Greater London and £25,300 for couples or single parents whose children live with them in Greater London. 

In all cases, this benefits cap appears to be less than the £29,900 “total yearly benefit” outlined in the Facebook posts. 

However some people aren’t affected by the benefits cap, such as people over state pension age, those who have limited capacity for work or those receiving Carer’s Allowance.

Can refugees get other support?

A refugee could also receive the state pension, provided they meet the eligibility criteria and make enough National Insurance contributions beforehand. 

The post also notes that pensioners have paid Income Tax and National Insurance. Once an asylum seeker is given refugee status and is legally allowed to work, their wages are taxed in the same way as any other British resident and they also pay Income Tax and National Insurance.  

We couldn’t find evidence of a “weekly spousal allowance” of £255. 

The only government support specific to refugees is the refugee integration loan, which is worth between £100-£500 for an individual and between £100-£780 for a couple. However, recipients must pay this money back to the government, even if they are on Universal Credit, as it is a loan. 

What about asylum seekers?

Asylum seekers are those who are awaiting a decision in their asylum case. They are not allowed to claim mainstream benefits such as Universal Credit.

If an asylum seeker is staying in accommodation that provides meals, they receive £8.86 a week. If they don’t have meals provided for them, they get £49.18 a week instead. Pregnant women and those with children under three-years-old receive an additional £5-£9.50 a week. There is also a one-off maternity grant of £300 available for pregnant women, if their baby is due in 11 weeks or less, or if their baby is under six months old. 

This support stops once a decision has been reached in their asylum case. If someone is granted refugee status, then they are allowed to apply for benefits such as Universal Credit, if they match the necessary criteria. 

Where did this claim come from? 

As noted above, we’ve seen almost this exact claim before. It’s been posted multiple times over the years, and we wrote about it as far back as 12 years ago

According to the House of Commons Library, the text has been circulating in reference to the UK since at least 2010, but appears very similar to an email that was circulating in Australia in 2007. 

Image courtesy of Sarah Agnew

Update 2 February 2024

The verdict of this article was amended to more clearly summarise who is entitled to access public funds and what support is available to asylum seekers.

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