Foreigners to Lose Legal Aid in Court Battles over Benefits as Cameron Orders End to 'Soft Touch' Britain
By Matt Chorley, Mailonline Political Editor
Immigrants are to be banned from receiving legal aid to launch court battles against the government in order to claim benefits.
David Cameron last night vowed to stop Britain being seen as a 'soft touch' as he revealed the first details of a plan to curb the access foreigners have to public money.
The Prime Minister said ministers were scouring the tax and benefits system to close loopholes which make it too easy for newcomers to Britain to claim handouts.
'Our message is very clear. We want immigration that will benefit Britain,' he insisted.
Limiting legal aid in cases involving housing, benefits and other civil claims will save millions from Britain's £billion legal aid bill.
'I think the most important thing is to make sure that while you have free movement you are not a soft touch,' Mr Cameron said.
'That is why we are going through, in fine detail, our benefits system, our tax system, our health system, our housing system, every aspect of our welfare system.'
The Government is determined to use curbs on benefits to deter Romanians and Bulgarians from flocking to the UK in January when restrictions on their travel here are lifted.
Mr Cameron revealed he has ordered Tory ministers to ignore warnings from civil servants that getting tough on immigration was too difficult.
And he said he had been forced to rebuff calls during a trip to India last week to ease curbs on immigrants moving to Britain for low-skilled jobs.
Ministers are also looking at ways to limit the amount of child benefit and tax credits which can be claimed by new arrivals in the UK.
Currently child benefit is paid to 40,000 children who do not live in the UK, costing up to £36million-a-year.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has now been tasked with drawing up a 'residency test' to prevent new arrivals from immediately gaining automatic access to legal aid for cases in the civil courts.
The PM said: 'I think there is more we can do. One of the aspects that we are reaching fairly early conclusion on is that we can no longer grant legal aid to non-UK nationals or for civil cases, people who are facing housing cases or benefit cases.
'We need a proper residency test for those cases and we're going to consult on introducing one,' he told the Daily Express.
'That is just one element of a huge range of measures to make sure that people who do come here are coming here because there is a particular job of work they want to do – rather than coming here because they want to use the health service or get a council house.'
A Government study to flesh out the new policy is set to be announced soon.
Mr Cameron said he had made to Tory ministers that they must over-rule officials if they try to derail attempts to take a more strident line on curbing immigration.
'Going through area after area, I've told the ministers: tear up your departmental brief, I'm not interested in what you were told to say when you came to this meeting; rip it up, think like a Conservative and make sure you're really doing what is necessary to ask the difficult questions in your department.
'Make sure that we're a fair country and a welcoming country but not a soft touch.'
He also promised to continue to reduce the overall net migration to Britain every year, which rose to 200,000 newcomers a year under Labour.
'We were not able to cope with that level of migration and pressure on public services,' he said.
'We've seen the level of net migration come down by a quarter over the last two-and-a-half years. I want to see further progress.'
Mr Cameron spent three days in India last week, where he urged more Indian students to come to Britain.
'I wanted to send a message that if you've got a place at a university, if you can speak the English language, there isn't an arbitrary limit on who can come.
'Afterwards you can work, but only in a graduate job. In India I was pressed quite hard – why can't we work in non-graduate jobs?
'I was very clear, including when sitting among those 500 girls in the Delhi college, I said we have unemployed people in Britain who need to be put into work.
'I'm not interested in people coming to study in university, then staying on for ages in unskilled jobs. That is not in our national interest.'
Earlier this month, Mr Cameron told the Commons that ministers were looking at a wide range measures to ensure Britain was not seen as a 'soft touch' by foreigners seeking to take advantage of its health or benefits systems.
The Prime Minister, who wants tougher rules to ensure visitors do not 'take advantage' of British generosity, said those from outside the EU should pay when they use our hospitals.
Officials should also do more to reclaim the costs of NHS treatment from EU countries whose nationals take ill here.
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