EU countries can deny welfare benefits for three months to people stemming from another member state in the bloc, the European Court of Justice said Thursday.

The European Union's top court has repeatedly been asked to rule on the matter of welfare benefits for intra-EU migrants, amid fears of welfare abuse in the bloc. The issue is at the heart of Britain's upcoming referendum on EU membership.

EU law already says that citizens from another member state can be refused access to social assistance for their first three months of residence.

But the Luxembourg-based judges were asked to weigh in on the matter again, following a legal dispute in Germany involving denied benefits for a Spanish man and his son.

"A member state may exclude nationals of other member states from certain social benefits (such as German subsistence benefits for jobseekers and their children) during their first three months of residence," the court said in a statement.

"Such a refusal does not presuppose an assessment of the individual situation of the person concerned," it added.

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