By Dan Coles
A Brit who has worked his whole life a claims he was denied Universal Credit because he wasn’t a UK citizen – after he spent two years living in Spain.
Former train manager Matthew Stockall, 38, returned from Benidorm to the UK last month after the breakdown of his relationship and struggled to find work as soon as he got back so applied for Universal Credit.
But he was shocked to receive a rejection letter from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which stated he hadn’t been living in the UK for long enough to claim – despite having been born and bred in Manchester.
The rejection meant Matthew, who worked as a bar rep during his time in Spain, was forced to sofa surf and rely on friends and relatives for food and basic living essentials, living off just £20 a week.
After contacting his local MP Mike Amesbury and reapplying for Universal Credit Matthew, who is still looking for work, was accepted to receive the benefit after a total delay of five weeks.
Matthew, who has also worked as a flight attendant and now lives in Northwich, Cheshire, said: “The DWP told me they didn’t recognise me a resident of the country as I had no permanent residence or offer of employment.
“I received an email saying I had failed the Habitual Residency Test.
“I explained to Universal Credit that I had paid tax for the entirety of my life before moving, to which they replied by saying that a lot of other people in the same position had paid more than me in their lifetime.
“I failed to see the relevance of this response, since there are obviously lots of people much older than me living in this country.
“I have paid National Insurance and tax for almost 20 years before moving, and when I needed help my country didn’t listen.
“Since returning, I’ve had no help and relied on what my auntie and sister could offer me.
“I’ve had to sofa hop between their homes, as well as relying on them to feed me.
Matthew first moved to Benidorm in 2016, working as a bar rep to be closer to his former partner.
He had been putting 100 euros a week aside for the nine weeks before the winter season, and had planned to use these savings on a flat deposit when he and his ex broke up.
But Matthew’s contract was cancelled due to the summer season ending, meaning he lost his deposit and was forced to return to the UK.
He believes the DWP thought he was trying to claim money with a possible intention of returning to Spain.
Matthew said he even offered to attend meetings at his local Job Centre once a week to prove he was still in the country and even offered to hand over his passport.
He feels moving to a small village in Cheshire, compared to his previous hometown of Manchester, has limited his job opportunities but he cannot afford to drive.
Matthew said: “When I offered those meetings, I was told it doesn’t work that way, I didn’t know how else to prove that I wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
“When you choose to move abroad with your partner, you don’t plan your break up or an escape route, I didn’t have any means of looking after myself once I came home.
“I can’t afford to drive so I can only apply for jobs in the small village where my auntie lives, in which there are very few available.
“It’s been a huge struggle to find work because of this.”
After local MP Mike Amesbury put in a formal request for Matthew’s case to be looked at, he was finally accepted onto Universal Credit.
Matthew said: “My problem is with the system as a whole.
“If I didn’t have the support of my family, I would have been on the streets and deemed unfit to contribute to the country, or to any company when looking for work.
“I’m sure this has happened to people who have found themselves in my position and without the support I luckily had, are now homeless.
“What really bothered me was it seemed that personnel circumstances are important when it comes to deciding the specific amount you’re entitled too but they base the decision of receiving the payment on legislation.”
A spokesman from DWP said: “We have an obligation to ensure we support people who are fully resident in the UK to avoid abuse of the welfare system.
“The Habitual Residence Test ensures that only people intending to remain within the UK for the foreseeable future can claim welfare support. This includes returning UK nationals, and we will always speak to claimants and examine evidence for this.”