Court clarifies equal access to housing benefit
By Sophie Petitjean | Tuesday 24 April 2012
European Union law precludes, under certain conditions, national or regional legislation that treats non-EU nationals who are long-term residents differently from EU citizens with regard to the allocation of funds for housing benefit. In a judgement, handed down on 24 April, the EU Court of Justice notes that it is for the court in Bolzano, Italy, to determine whether the housing benefit in question falls within the areas covered by the principle of equality laid down in Directive 2003/109/EC on third-country nationals who are long-term residents and thus constitutes a core benefit within the meaning of that directive.
Servet Kamberaj is an Albanian national residing in Italy and employed on a stable basis in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano since 1994. As the holder of a residence permit for an indefinite period, he received housing benefit – a contribution by the province to the payment of rent for low-income tenants – from 1998 to 2008. The benefit was interrupted in 2009 on the grounds that the budget for third-country nationals was exhausted. That year, the social housing institute of the Province of Bolzano revised the coefficients used to determine the amounts allocated to EU citizens and to third-country nationals. As a result, the housing benefit for third-country nationals was limited to €10.2 million for 2009, compared with €21.5 million for EU citizens.
In response to a request for a preliminary ruling, the court held that the application of different coefficients to the allocation of funds has the effect of disadvantaging the category of third-country nationals, since the budget available to satisfy their applications for housing benefit is smaller and thus likely to be used up more quickly than the budget for EU citizens, Italian or otherwise.
The court then found that it is for the national court to assess whether housing benefit falls within the fields covered by Directive 2003/109/EC, taking into account “both the integration objective pursued by the directive and the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights”. The judges pointed out that member states may limit the application of equal treatment in respect of social assistance and social protection to “core benefits,” which include minimum income support, assistance in case of illness, pregnancy, parental assistance and long-term care. Conversely, Directive 2003/109 does not allow them to derogate from this principle in respect of social security benefit as defined by national legislation.
The court therefore held that it is for the national court to determine whether housing benefit is a “core benefit,” taking into consideration its purpose, amount, conditions for allocation and the place of this assistance in the Italian system of social assistance.