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Introduction to EU law

This content applies to England

The rights enshrined in the Treaties, Regulations and Directives of the European Union (EU).

Introduction to EU law

exclamation The UK formally ceased to be member of the EU at 11pm on 31 January 2020. However, due to saving and transitional provisions, the legal framework applicable to EEA nationals, will continue to apply during a transition period until 11pm on 31 December 2020. Until then, the UK is still required to give effect to the rights enshrined in EU Treaties, Regulations and Directives.[1]

EU law developed from the original Treaty of Rome establishing the European Community. The objects of the Treaty were expanded over the years and include:

  • the promotion of economic and social cohesion through the establishment of an area without frontiers
  • the gradual raising of standards of living for EU/EEA nationals
  • the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality, and
  • more recently, the introduction of the concept of EU citizenship.

Traditionally, there were four fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Treaty:

  • free movement of workers
  • free movement of goods
  • free movement of capital
  • freedom of establishment and provision of services.

However, since the concept of EU citizenship and 'genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights attached to the status of EU citizen' was introduced in EU law by the Treaty of Maastricht, the right for EU citizens to move and reside freely within the territory of the EU is a fundamental objective of EU law.[2]

Sources of EU law

Besides the EU Treaties, there are other sources of EU law such as:

  • the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU
  • the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
  • other international legal instruments ratified by the Member States which are included in the general principles of law enforceable by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

EU law, for homelessness purposes, has three primary sources:

  • EU Treaties
  • EU Regulations
  • EU Directives.

Treaties establish general fundamental rights and freedoms that require subordinated legislation specifying the details and are binding on the Member States only with regard to the broader objectives. Treaties also enshrine broad concepts of non-discrimination and of respect for fundamental rights which includes notions of equality, dignity and solidarity.[3]

Regulations are binding in their entirety and take direct effect in each Member State, which means that they immediately become part of domestic law.

Directives are binding as to the result to be achieved and require Member States to issue domestic regulations to implement them.

Interpretaion of EU law

EU law is to be interpreted 'purposively'. In order to understand a piece of EU legislation, it is first necessary to look at its objective.

The principle of 'proportionality' is enshrined in EU law. It can be used to challenge the legality of an individual Member State's action falling within the competence of EU law.

EU law must also be interpreted in accordance with what are termed 'fundamental rights'. These include not just the European Convention on Human Rights, but also other international Treaties and Conventions, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the European Court of Justice can use as an aid to interpreting a disputed national measure.

EU law is ultimately interpreted, and its scope determined, by the ECJ.[4]

EU v UK law

EU law is part of international law and takes priority over incompatible UK law. If UK law, whether it is an Act or regulations, conflicts with or is inconsistent with EU law, then the UK law must be disapplied.[5]

EU law regarding the eligibility for homelessness assistance is either 'directly applicable' or of 'direct effect'. This means that EU nationals can rely on EU law when exercising EU law rights in the UK. However, in order to rely on EU law, the person must be within both the personal and material scope of EU law. The UK must protect and uphold EU national's  rights deriving from EU law.[6]


The legislative references and the footnotes on this page reflect the law in England. In Wales, very similar rules made under Welsh legislation apply, but the references may be different. Contact Shelter Cymru for more information about the law in Wales.

[1] The rights of free movement contained in the Treaty of Rome were incorporated into UK law by s.7(1) of the Immigration Act 1988. By s.7(1) a person shall not under the principal Act (the Immigration Act 1971) require leave to enter or remain in the UK 'in any case in which he is entitled to do so by virtue of an enforceable Community right or of any provision made under s.2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972'.

[2] Article 20 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU); Baumbast v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Case 413/99, [2002] ECR I-7091; D'Hoop v Office National de L'emploi, Case 224/98, [2002] ECR I-6191 .

[3] Grzelczyk v Centre Public d'Aide Sociale , Case 184/99, [2001] ECR I-6193, [2003] All ER(EC) 385.

[4] The case law of the European Court of Justice is binding on all UK courts/tribunals under s.3(1) of the European Communities Act 1972.

[5] This is a founding principle of EC law first established over 40 years ago in Costa v ENEL, Case 6/64, [1964] ECR 585.

[6] This is a second fundamental principle of EU (formerly EC) law established over 40 years ago by the European Court of Justice in Van Gend en Loos v Netherlands Inland Revenue Administration, Case 26/62, [1963] ECR 1, [1963] CMLR 105.

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