Workers' Residence Rights in France and Social Benefits
Tuesday 07 May 2019
A recent court case in France considered the relationship between the right of residence of workers from the EEA and their right to social benefits.
In the case, a Spanish national moved to France in 2008 to undertake an internship, and was subsequently successful in finding a two-year fixed term employment contract between 2009 and 2011.
At the end of the contract he secured several other short-term contracts, all of them for less than a year.
In January 2012 he became unemployed and signed up on the Pôle emploi unemployment register.
As an unemployed person he was able to make a successful application for the supplementary benefit Revenu de Solidarité Active (RSA), a benefit that is administered by the departmental councils.
In September 2015 he relocated within France to the department of Gard (Occitanie), who refused his application for continued receipt of RSA on the grounds that he was not legally resident in France.
Under European law, a 'worker' (a term which itself has been subject to interpretation in the courts) has a permanent right of residence in another European country, and should they become unemployed their continued right of residence depends on the duration of their employment contract:
- It is limited to six months if the employment contract was less than a year.
- A permanent right of residence exists if the employment contract had been for at least a year, provided they continue to seek employment by registering with the unemployment agency.
Thus, French law states the right of permanent residence exists for workers:
'S'ils se trouvent en chômage involontaire dûment constaté après avoir exercé leur activité professionnelle pendant plus d'un an et sont inscrits sur la liste des demandeurs d'emploi.'
In this case, although the individual had previously had a contract greater than one year, his most recent contracts were less than a year.
In the same manner as the departmental council, the administrative court sitting in Nimes took a strict interpretation of the law, and in their judgement stated that as the previous contract had been less than a year the individual concerned was not legally resident in France and, therefore, not entitled to RSA.
This decision was overturned on appeal to the Conseil d’Etat, who ruled that the individual was legally resident and entitled to RSA, stating: "the mere fact that the contract preceding registration as a jobseeker was for a period of less than one year is not such as to limit the right of residence of the person concerned to a period of six months."