Expats soak up £1m a week in benefits



As 10,000 Brits roll over in their sun-lounger, reach for their sangria, and contemplate how life has improved since they left Blighty for warmer and more comfortable shores, they must be very grateful for the quirk in European law that means they can do it while raking in British benefits.

A report in the Daily Mail today reveals that 10,000 British expats are living the high life overseas while continuing to receive sickness benefits from the UK of as much as £94 a week. And that's not all.

The payments are required under European law, which states that if you acquire benefits in one country, you are entitled to continue to receive them if you move to another country within the continent. If claimants are outside Europe, somewhere like Jamaica or the US, they will still get the benefits under specific arrangements the UK has with these countries.

The outcry was loud enough when it emerged that expats still receive the winter fuel payment, but these benefits are in another league altogether - worth at least three times the amount of the fuel payments - at up to £49 million.

Under new rules, if they stayed in the UK, they would need to prove they were unfit to work on a regular basis. Around 5,800 younger claimants still will at some point between this February and April 2014 - although they don't have to visit an NHS doctor in order to do so. However, if they are over the age of 60 they will slip through the net, because Ian Duncan Smith has confirmed that older people on the benefit will not have to take the tests.

Is this fair?

There are those who are outraged by the figures. They argue that expats are no longer contributing to society in the UK, and no longer paying VAT. They aren't spending their cash in the UK, or supporting British business, so they are purely a drain on the country. The winter fuel allowance is an insult, and disability benefits an expense we cannot afford.

However, there are plenty more who argue that expats pay income tax on any taxable benefits - including their pension. They don't fall back on the UK for healthcare, or for care in their old age. Nether do they constitute a drain on things like infrastructure and public transport. They have paid into the system for the entire time they were working in the UK, and will get far less back in the long run.

But what do you think? Let us know in the comments.