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Court of Justice of the European Union: Comprehensive Sickness Insurance

Volume 822: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications of the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union on 10 March on comprehensive sickness insurance in case C 247/20 VI.

My Lords, this is a complex case, and the recent judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union raises many questions regarding residents’ rights and access to benefits under EU law. The Government are carefully considering the impacts of the judgment and seeking further legal advice on the implications.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but the Government have had two months. The treatment of EU and EEA citizens risks becoming another Windrush, whether from refusal to give physical proof of status or from successive UK Governments’ 16-year insistence, now finally judged illegal by the Court of Justice, that some such citizens had to have unnecessary and expensive private health insurance, even though their access to the NHS satisfied the EU law test of comprehensive sickness insurance. When are the Government going to stop demanding private health insurance from all EEA citizens to help them access welfare benefits and British citizenship? What are they going to do to redress the wrongs suffered, including being deported and prevented from getting settled status?

My Lords, I do not accept the points made by the noble Baroness. Past decisions in which the comprehensive sickness insurance requirement was relevant were taken by the UK Government in good faith according to our understanding of EU law at the time. As I have said to the noble Baroness, we are reviewing the implications of this judgment for the approach taken by the UK to the sickness insurance requirement while free movement law operated in the UK. I will happily update the noble Baroness and others in this House when we have more detail to provide on that judgment and its implications.

My Lords, this is clearly a complex question, but could the Minister, at the very least, give me a complete assurance that EU and EEA citizens who entered this country before December 2020 are now no longer being asked to have private health insurance?

I can reassure the noble Baroness that comprehensive sickness insurance is not a requirement to gain pre-settled status or settled status under the EU settled status scheme. We are looking carefully indeed at all the other implications of the judgment.

My Lords, I realise that this is a very difficult question, but would the Government agree to an inquiry into the private health insurance requirements and their impact on those EEA citizens who are exercising their freedom of movement in the UK?

Of course, for the vast majority of EU citizens exercising their freedom of movement rights previously under EU law, comprehensive sickness insurance was not a requirement. It is also the case that the comprehensive sickness requirement has been tested in courts before in the UK and found to be completely lawful. As I have said, we will look very carefully at the implications of this judgment and update Peers as we have more information, to ensure they are kept abreast of what the Government are doing on this matter.

My Lords, clearly the noble Baroness cannot commit to a formal inquiry, but will she call a meeting of interested Peers? I do not think this is for a 10-minute discussion; we need to have the whole picture, particularly the subtleties of what the Government plan to do about it.

I am very happy to make that commitment to the noble Lord. I agree with him that there are more details to this case than I have been able to provide today. When we are in a position to have a more detailed discussions, I would be happy to arrange it.

Will the Government liaise with those who have been affected—stakeholders, if you like—so that the Government are thoroughly informed of the impacts they have felt over the years, including deportation, inability to access benefits and so on, so that they have a complete picture?

I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government will indeed want to have the complete picture when it comes to the impact of this judgment and its implications. I am sure that will include hearing from those who have been impacted directly by it.

My Lords, the Minister will know that Article 86 of the withdrawal agreement says:

“The Court of Justice of the European Union shall continue to have jurisdiction to give preliminary rulings on requests from courts and tribunals of the United Kingdom made before the end of the transition period.”

Can she tell the House how many more of these transitional cases are pending in the Court of Justice?

I do not have that figure for the noble Lord. I will happily go away, see if we have the figure and write to him with it. However, he is absolutely correct that the CJEU continues to have jurisdiction to make rulings on preliminary references from UK courts made before the end of the transition period, as happened in this case.

The Minister said there had been UK court cases where it was found that the requirement to have private health insurance was legally required, but this is a binding judgment of the European Court of Justice. Can the Minister confirm that this overrules any previous UK court decisions?

My understanding is that we are not disagreeing with the finding of the court in this case; we are just seeking to ensure that we understand fully its implications, and that is what I will update Members on in due course.