Ministers consider halting benefits for young workers to keep migrant pledge _ Politics _ The Guardian can i apply for housing benefit

Ministers are considering plans to stop young britons claiming in-work benefits because they have been told that the tory manifesto pledge to apply such restrictions solely to EU migrants would be illegal, it has emerged.

Under the plan, a rule intended to stop EU migrants claiming benefits during their first four years in the UK would also stop britons aged 18 to 22 claiming benefits such as tax credits and child benefit.

The conservative election manifesto said the party would stop EU migrants claiming tax credits and child benefit until they have been in the country for at least four years. But, in a document leaked to the BBC, government lawyers have advised ministers that they do not have the power to make this change under current EU law.

The document also says that ministers could make a case for restricting EU migrants’ access to certain benefits using secondary legislation.How can i apply for housing benefit but it goes on: “however, the legal arguments to do so are extremely weak.”

David cameron has said he wants to change aspects of the EU treaties that determine EU law as part of his renegotiation of britain’s terms of membership. However, he has accepted that any treaty change process will not be fully concluded before the deadline he has set for the british referendum on EU membership, the end of 2017, and ministers accept that getting countries like poland to agree to changes that would curtail the benefit rights of EU migrants in the UK would be extremely difficult.

At one stage this year, the idea of getting around EU law by imposing a sweeping four-year benefits ban on everyone was an option reportedly floated as a joke by philip hammond, the foreign secretary. But, according to the BBC, it is now being taken seriously, with the plan being for people to have to pass a four-year residency test before they could claim.How can i apply for housing benefit

“we’ve already taken action to protect the benefits system and ensure that EU migrants come to this country for the right reasons and to contribute to the economy,” she said. “now we’re focused on renegotiating our relationship with europe and getting a better deal for britons, and we won’t speculate on other options.”

Stephen timms, the acting shadow work and pensions secretary, told the today programme on tuesday that the revelation showed that cameron’s EU renegotiation was failing, and that it was unfair for young britons to be penalised as a result.

“it certainly sounds as though these negotiations are not going well and ministers are waking up to the fact they won’t be able to deliver the renegotiation they’ve promised,” he said. “I think most people would take the view it would not be acceptable for ordinary UK citizens to be badly hit because the government’s renegotiation efforts have not succeeded.”

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Labour in its election manifesto said EU migrants should have to wait two years before they could claim benefits in the UK. Timms appeared to concede that this would also be problematic under current EU law, but he implied that, even if britons did have to be included, a two-year benefits ban would be better than a four-year one.

“I think the government should – they haven’t been able to deliver, it appears, the four years – have a go at two years. They might be able to get further with that,” he said. “but of course if they didn’t, the fallback, which they now seem to be looking at, would affect many less people if it was a two-year restriction than the four years they’re discussing.”