Benefits tourism could mean backdoor ID cards


The row over ID cards for British citizens raged for years, and after over £5 billion was wasted, the idea was scrapped. Now, in a classic case of unintended consequences, there's a chance we could end up with them after-all, in a move to stamp out 'benefits tourism' in the NHS.

So how could it happen?

'Benefits tourism'

The 'benefits tourism' debate has been raging ever since the government announced that it would do what it could to stop newer members of the EU coming to the UK purely to claim benefits.

David Cameron has made it clear he's revisiting the 'habitual residency' test, which only requires people to be resident in the UK to qualify for benefits. The idea is to introduce a requirement to have been resident for a particular period of time.


Now, according to a report in the Daily Mail, the discussions have extended to include NHS care, with the suggestion that people should have to live in the UK for a certain period - possibly up to a year - before receiving free access to the NHS. The idea is to stop sick people travelling specifically to access free care.

The idea was raised in an open letter to Jeremy Hunt from Frank Field and Nicholas Soames - who co-chair a group on balanced migration.

Cameron has already expressed his support for restricting free care to those who travel to the UK from outside the EU. According to the Telegraph In February he told a group of B&Q employees: "We're not tough enough right now about people coming from the other side of the world who decide to use our health service. They haven't contributed in their taxes. They should pay when they use the NHS."


In practice, however, the only way that restricting access to care would work is if people carried ID cards of some description to prove they were entitled to care. This was one of the main arguments put forward by the Labour Party in support of the cards.

David Blunkett said in 2003 the cards would ensure "people don't work if they are not entitled to work, they don't draw on services which are free in this country, including health, unless they are entitled to".

So will this mean an ID card via the back door?

There are plenty of obstacles to overcome first. One of the most significant is the fact that the European Commission has already made it clear that it will oppose plans to restrict benefits to new immigrants, so plans to restrict free healthcare will go down just as badly. The UK would have to get this past the EC first.

Then there are the civil liberties groups that made life so tough for Labour when they wanted to introduce ID cards - they're unlikely to go down without a fight.

Liberty said at the time there were any number of reasons not to have a card, not least because they intrude on privacy and pose a security risk because of the government's poor record on data security.

The campaigns chimed with a large number who were concerned about the cards. In 2008 some 25% of people were strongly opposed to their introduction.

It leaves the government in a tricky position. They've executed some astonishing u-turns in their time, but this may just prove to be a step too far.

10 consumer rights you should know
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Benefits tourism could mean backdoor ID cards

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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