Ministers slam Bristol Big Issue seller’s legal victory

Campaigners claim housing benefit legal ruling will “open floodgates” for Eastern Europeans to beg in Britain at taxpayers’ expense

Romanian Big Issue seller Firuta Vasile

Romanian Big Issue seller Firuta Vasile (Picture: SWNS)

The Government has slammed a landmark ruling which allows a Romanian mother selling the Big Issue on the streets of Bristol to claim housing benefits.

Immigrants like Firuta Vasile, 27, who sell the Big Issue are now able to claim up to £20,000 a year in housing benefits – after the ruling classed their work as a “proper job”.

Current government rules state that European nationals are not entitled to housing benefit unless they are in employment. But Bristol City Council refused the handout to Ms Vasile because her street job “didn’t count”.

So she enlisted legal experts to argue that she was technically self employed because she used her own money to buy Big Issues and sold them at her own profit or loss.

The mother-of-four yesterday welcomed the landmark judgement and said the extra cash – about £160 a week – would help her pay rent on her £130,000 three-bedroomed home.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ms Vasile said she came to the UK in 2007 to look for work, but could only find a post at the Big Issue in Bristol.

She said: “I can keep half of the money I take and I usually make around £100 per week. This isn’t enough to meet all my family’s needs so I asked the council for housing benefit to help with my rent. My claim was turned down.

“I was told that because I am Romanian I could not get benefits unless I have a job or I am in self-employment. They said work for The Big Issue didn’t count.

“I got legal support and was helped with an appeal. My adviser got lots of evidence that selling The Big Issue really is self-employment.

“I am really pleased if this decision means that people from countries like Romania and Bulgaria who come to the UK to work hard are not treated unfairly.”

But campaigners claim the legal ruling will “open the floodgates” for Eastern Europeans to “come and beg” in Britain, while racking up a huge bill for the taxpayer.

Under the ruling, Big Issue selling immigrants could claim up to £400 a week or £20,800 a year if they are living in a four-bedroomed house, depending on where and with whom they live.

Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment, said yesterday: “We disagree with the court’s decision. Maintaining the security and integrity of the benefit system is our top priority which is why we are trying to restore fairness to the benefits system and will be keeping the rules around the payment of benefits to people from abroad under review.

“We have to remain in line with our national and international obligations. However, it is absolutely necessary to protect the tax payer and the benefit system from possible abuse.

“This is another example of why we are working hard to secure changes to European benefit rules.”

Single mum Ms Vasile – whose children are aged 11, seven, six and two – began her case in January 2010 with a first tribunal heard in Bristol on June 6 last year.

The social security ‘first tier’ tribunal ruled that Ms Vasile should be paid benefits because selling the Big Issue counts as self-employment and she sold enough.

Bristol City Council appealed the decision and the case was taken to an upper tribunal in London last year.

Judge Mark Rowland released his written judgement – in favour of Ms Vasile – on January 10, with the council stating that they will not appeal again.

Andy King, of Avon and Bristol Law Centre, who helped her with her case said: “This is a great victory for people struggling to work to support their families. If people are willing and able to work, we need to encourage them to do so.

“Anyone who thinks selling The Big Issue on a British street in winter is a soft option should have a go themselves”.

But Sir Andrew Green, 70, chairman of think tank Migration Watch UK, slammed the judgement.

“This is an absurd decision which has potentially serious consequences,” he said. “It is an open invitation for beggars from Eastern Europe to come to Britain and claim housing benefit for them and their families at considerable expense to the British taxpayer.

“Yet again decisions are taken in complete disregard for the consequences for ordinary taxpayers.”

Stephen Robertson, chief executive of The Big Issue Foundation, said: “Big Issue vendors use their own money to buy their magazines and sell them at their own profit or loss.

“It is by no means an easy task. I am pleased that this ruling represents an important acceptance of the challenges and the opportunities that the magazine mechanism represents for people regardless of where they come from.”

A spokesman for Bristol City Council called for Government clarification on the issue of benefits for immigrants.

He added: “Bristol processes housing benefit claims on behalf of the Government according to the protocol laid down by the Government and recovers money paid out in claims locally on behalf of the city.”

20 Responses to Ministers slam Bristol Big Issue seller’s legal victory
  1. Steve
    January 13, 2013 | 6:18 pm

    Big issue sellers, earn £8.60 per hour! There is a right comic locally who never turns up at the local Morrison's before 9:30 most mornings! Morrison's personnell start at 8am!

    When I see all the hard working door staff/cleaners/trolley collectors & shelf stackers, it riles me that they only earn minimum wage….Around £6:50 per hour, that big issue guy is having a larf!.

  2. james
    October 1, 2012 | 8:24 am

    This disgusts me, I am NEVER buying a big issue again.

  3. Rob
    January 25, 2012 | 4:55 pm

    I diagree that foreign nationals who are not paying into the system should be able to claim benefits, but where does the figure of £25,000 come from?

    £160 per week x 52 weeks = £8320 – which isn't going to fund a luxurious lifestyle with rent to pay out of that and three kids in tow.

    Plus she hasn't claimed anything yet.

  4. expostulator
    January 23, 2012 | 7:33 pm

    let's all suddenly get hung up about this. It's not only the Roma Gypsy population whoa are abusing the (original) Big Issue ethos. The vast majority of home- grown vendors; vendors who decry the Roma, are themselves living in houses claiming benefits. With most of their Big Issue earnings undeclared!
    There are lots of ironies in this 'breaking' news. The biggest one for me though, is the fact that the owner of the business; John Bird, now amazingly rich on the back of homelessness, is the mainsupporter of the Sun's campaign to 'out' benefit cheats, but ironically, by proxy, is perhaps the biggest recipient of social security funds this country has ever seen!

  5. darren wormsley
    January 23, 2012 | 7:30 pm

    Self employed means you pay in. She can get any job she can dream off as long as she is self employed. You fools

  6. Paul
    January 20, 2012 | 11:22 am

    "Tory benefits". I take it your joking. The last gov. increased every benefit and invented tax credits. Child Tax Credit- claim but no proof needed. A fraudsers Xmas, costing us billions.

  7. Sick fed up
    January 19, 2012 | 7:09 pm

    Like most of the other views I too am at a loss for words. I am sick of people coming here expecting handouts!!! I have never heard such rubbish that selling the Big Issue is being self-employed oh and I thought you had stil to pay tax and insurance if you are self-employed but that also must be just for people born and bred in Britain yes Britain as it is happening up here in Scotland too and god forbid if Scotland goes on their own you may find lots of Scots migrating to England to get all the tory benefits!!!!!! It is time something was done poor soldiers fighting for our Country coming back, getting paid off and getting nowt come back Enoch Powell

  8. Paul
    January 19, 2012 | 6:03 pm

    Surely the issue is whether selling the Big Issue is self employment. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, workers were barred from working here unless they were self employed. Labour could have done the same with Eastern European workers in 2004 but chose not to. If it is not self employment, she should not be working. If it is, she can!

  9. Alex
    January 19, 2012 | 1:08 am

    I'm romanian. Living in the uk, but not claiming any benefits. used to have a job (long story)
    I'm sorry. to be honest, I would rather you would not give them any money until they work for it. It's actually quite hard to get around the work restrictions we have, but it can be done. I would rather you lift the work restrictions and stop giving people benefits like this. She could have gotten benefits in Romania too, not as much, but then again living costs would also be lower. I worked here, and would rather we were known as hard working rather than benefit thieves.

  10. martin
    January 18, 2012 | 8:48 pm

    immigrants who come to work properly and pay tax is fine, but the ones who come here because they know the loopholes and scams and what they can claim will end up bleeding us all dry, Ms Vasile came here in 2007 has had a child aged 2?, where is the father, she has been claiming £25000 a year = tax credits of 100,000 so far, how many tax payers is it taking to keep her?, if this is the only type of work she can get then she should be doing it back in the country she came from,
    this country is importing beggars who then proceed to claim benefits,
    they are taking everything out and putting nothing in,
    it's no wonder they want to come to the UK,
    it makes me feel sick inside, something has got to change, no proper work? then deport back to thier home country, i thought EU Law states that migrants must not be a burden on another country.

    • Steffiegirl
      January 19, 2012 | 4:14 am

      I think the whole country is with you on this one. It’s a shame the government hasn’t realised this yet …!

  11. steve
    January 18, 2012 | 8:00 pm

    mr gottaballs: you're true it's wrong after you've given so much that you can't get anything in your own right. It seems the UK Gov is quite happy for you to go and fight for them but when you come home it wants to means test you. Disgusting.
    But i don't see the connection between that and the romanian lady above. Selling big issues is a hard job, she's working enough hours so she gets support (like any english person) with her rent.

    The prob is that the system isn't looking after our needs, probably just like it hasn't been in romania: there's hardly any work, rents too damn expensive, and the benefits system contrary to popular sentiment is a bloody nightmare, stingy, intrusive and doesn't help u find work. I don't blame the woman above for any of that.
    Why not start a campaign against the government about pension credit?

  12. Gottaballs
    January 18, 2012 | 5:44 pm

    Dunno how these people do it and are not even English. I'm unemployed and cannot even claim benefits for myself my wife has to claim pension credit. Work hard all my life for 42 years including serving in the armed services and I get nothing in my own right. So how come these poxy immigrants can get away with this. This crap is really getting me down as well as being no suitable jobs out there.

    • arry
      January 19, 2012 | 8:23 am

      Gottaballs – you are clearly entitled to housing benefit if that is your situation

      I suggest you get some advice.

  13. arry
    January 18, 2012 | 5:11 pm

    Would your attitude be different if the person was born in England or was racially "English" ?

    This benefit is available to all self-employed people struggling to make a living. Why should it be different because they sell the big issue ? Why should it be different because they are born in Romania ?

    Rather than turning our anger on the bankers and the rich insiders, the politicians and media are doing a good job of making everyone blame the weakest in society.

    • joe99
      January 22, 2012 | 9:02 pm

      yes it would be different if they were born here, or indeed had worked here for a long time, but had fallen on hard times. what type of job exactly was this benefits thief intending to do, in order to support herself and her children. what are her skills. how does she think she can support herself and her 4 children on £100 per week, earned from her "business". she is nothing but a thieving fraud, and because the big issue condones this sort of behaviour, bristol city council should deny ALL big issue sellers their pitches. selling the big issue isn't a job, it is organised begging, something ms vasile's fellow roma people do with great vigour on the continent.

  14. Fred Bloggs
    January 18, 2012 | 5:03 pm

    No wonder there are no comments: speechless! £25k a year of our taxes and can’t even be bothered to learn the language. Why not f*&^ off?

    • Tom J
      February 5, 2012 | 10:09 am

      The question is not where this woman is from, but how is it in any way ethical to pay £25K plus a ‘salary’ to one person and a Bristolian born and bred is stuck on £7.50 per hour struggling to pay a mortgage

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