Benefit rights for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals

Issue 196 (February 2007)

Pamela Fitzpatrick gives a brief overview of the changes to benefit rules brought about by the Accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU.


Bulgaria and Romania (known as the A2 States) joined the EU on 1 January 2007 and from that date nationals of both states have to the right to freely enter the UK. However, in line with EC law, for a transitional period, the UK is allowed to limit access to both work and benefits.

The benefit rights of A2 nationals largely mirror those of A8 nationals, 1 but there are slight differences.

People from Bulgaria and Romania who want to work in the UK must, except where they are exempt, obtain a work authorisation document before they take up employment. The person is then issued with an Accession Work Card (AWC). Employment cannot start until the AWC has been issued and, if the employee wishes to move jobs, they have to first obtain another AWC specific to that employment. If a person takes up work without obtaining an AWC, s/he may be guilty of a criminal offence.

Only work in certain types of employment entitles the person to an AWC. There are two categories of work that lead to an AWC being issued:

  • workers in the food processing industry; or
  • seasonal agricultural workers.

A2 nationals not subject to restrictions

Some Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are exempt from the requirement to authorise their work. They need to apply for a blue registration certificate to confirm this right. The following A2 nationals do not require authorisation:

  • highly skilled migrants who have been issued with a registration certificate that includes a statement that s/he has unconditional access to the UK labour market;2 or
  • those with leave to remain under UK immigration rules on the date of Accession and who have no restriction on taking employment; or
  • those who had been legally working in the UK for a continuous period of 12 months by 31 December 2006; or
  • those who were working legally working in the UK continuously for a period of 12 months falling partly or wholly after 31 December 2006 or completed 12 months; or
  • those who have dual nationality and are also a national of the UK or some other EEA State or they are the spouse or civil partner of a UK national; or
  • those with a permanent right of residence in the UK; or
  • are a family member of an EEA national who as a right to reside in the UK; or
  • those with a spouse or civil partner who is a British Citizen or a person settled in the UK; or
  • those who have already completed 12 months of authorised work; or
  • students who intend to work less than 20 hours a week and are in possession of a registration certificate confirming that s/he has access to the labour market; or
  • 'posted workers' who have worked for an employer of another member state but posted to work in the UK.

Self-employed A2 nationals

As with A8 nationals, A2 nationals who are self-employed are treated in exactly the same way as any other EU national. The fact that they are self-employed gives them a right of residence.

Access to benefits

A2 nationals who are working in authorised work are able to claim benefits to which they are entitled such as housing benefit, council tax benefit, working tax credit and child benefit. Benefit can be paid as soon as they take up work. However, if they become unemployed before first completing 12 months of authorised work they lose their entitlement to benefit.

An A2 national who has completed 12 months of authorised work will be issued with a certificate to show that they now have unrestricted access to the UK labour market. They will thereafter be treated in the same way as other EU nationals and will have access to any type of work and to claim benefits freely.

An A2 national who falls into the category of highly skilled migrant and who is exempt from the requirement to authorise her/his work must obtain a certificate confirming this from the Home Office. The certificate will state that s/he has unconditional access to the UK labour market. A2 nationals with this type of certificate will be able to sign on for jobseeker's allowance even though they may not have worked in the UK.

Please be aware that welfare rights law and guidance change frequently. Therefore older Bulletin articles may be out of date. Use keywords or the search function to find more recent material on this topic.

  • 1. A8 states are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, which joined the EU on 1 May 2004. A8 nationals are required to register their employment until they have completed 12 months' registered work.
  • 2. People will only fall within this category if they would qualify.