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Scope of EU law

This content applies to England

Defining the personal and material scope of EU law.

Defining personal scope of EU law

By personal scope, the person must either be an EEA/EU national or a family member of an EEA/EU national exercising an EU (formerly EC) law right. An EU national coming to the UK seeking employment is clearly within the personal scope of EU law. The degree to which an EEA/EU national falls within the personal scope of EU law simply by virtue of being a citizen of the EU, having exercised the right to freely move and reside in another Member State, is a developing and controversial area of EU law.

However, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that European law regarding the right to reside in a member state is applicable even if an EU national has never exercised her/his right of free movement to another EU country.[1] The parents/sole carer of dependent British nationals  have a  right of residence because the child's status as an EU national - despite the child not having left the UK to exercise any treaty rights - gives the child a right of residence (see the Persons ineligible for assistance page for further information about the right of residence of carers of dependent British citizens).

Defining material scope of EU law

By material scope, the issue/dispute must be within a subject area about which EU law is competent. The principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality in respect of a worker is clearly within the material scope of EU law because the EU has passed specific legislation in this respect. However, the extent to which an economically inactive EEA/EU national can seek to rely on the principle of non-discrimination in respect of access to social assistance in the host state in which s/he has chosen to reside remains a controversial and developing area of EU law.


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] Ruiz Zambrano (European Citizenship) EUECJ C-34/09; Article 20 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

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