THE UK government has backed down over its "26-week rule" which stopped many disabled expats from reclaiming benefits that were illegally cut off when they came to France.
The change follows pressure from the European Commission, which said the policy broke EU rules.
The 26-week rule, also called the "past-presence test", has been the main issue preventing people getting UK benefits like disability living allowance (DLA) reinstated - despite a European Court of Justice ruling in 2007 telling the UK they were "exportable."
The UK had insisted anyone applying for them from abroad should have spent 26 out of the last 52 weeks in the UK - a rule that excluded most expats seeking to reclaim benefits.
This rule will now only apply to people who have never claimed the benefits before, Department for Work and Pensions Minister Jonathan Shaw has announced.
DLA campaigner Tina Hamilton from Pas-de-Calais said: "The commission’s infringement proceedings seem to have worked because the government has backed down.
"The commission said ‘stop doing this or we’ll have you up in court’ and the UK has dropped it. It is good news."
Mr Hamilton, who is seeking reinstatement, has had his test case heard, along with several others before a UK tribunal, however the outcome was unknown on going to press.
Anyone who lost UK disability benefits (DLA, carer’s allowance or attendance allowance) on arrival in France between March 8, 2001 and October 18, 2007 may now request reinstatement, whether or not they have previously appealed against loss of their benefits.
A previous policy of turning down people who had not previously appealed when their benefits were originally cut has been abandoned.
Campaigners and the government remain at odds over how far back payments should go.
While the government recognises 2001 - when lawyers say the benefits first technically became exportable - as the start point for claims for reinstatement, they will only back-date to 2007, when the ECJ formally ruled on British benefits.
Mrs Hamilton said people could initially ask for back-dating to 2007 but should not exclude the possibility of back-dating to 2001.
"We suggest people write to the DWP saying: ‘in view of Jonathan Shaw’s ministerial statement of February 25, 2010 I request reinstatement of my benefit back-dated to October 18, 2007, without conditions’ so they don’t give up a later possible claim for earlier back-dating."
Anyone seeking reinstatement should include their National Insurance number and should keep a copy of the letter.
MP Roger Gale, who has been lobbying the government on the issue, said the Hamiltons’ efforts - and Connexion’s articles - helped bring about the change.
He said surviving partners or relatives of those who have died while waiting for reinstatement should also write.
He hoped there would be no "protracted medical arguments" over whether people still qualified and that payments would be rapidly reinstated so the issue did not "disappear into a black hole under a new minister" after the General Election.
The DWP’s exportability team and disability benefit entitlement team can be reached at:
Pension Disability and Carers Service,
Warbreck Hill Road,
Checks will still be made on entitlement. For example, in some cases it depends on your national insurance record.
See http://tinyurl.com/dlarules and http://tinyurl.com/dlabackdown for more information.