The scandal of benefit frauds abroad


Spanish beachEmilio Morenatti/AP/Press Association Images

People who have escaped to the sun are still illegally fleecing the UK for benefits. In fact, the government has revealed that they cost us a total of £43 million last year.

But what are they doing, and how are they falling foul of the rules?

The rules

The rules about the benefits you are allowed to claim overseas are fairly complex. You can, for example, pick up your state pension, but you can't claim pension credit.

In many cases fraudsters aren't declaring the fact they have moved, and are still picking up a number of non-exportable benefits, including Disability Living Allowance (mobility), Pension Credit, Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance (income based), Employment and Support Allowance (income based).

Other fraudsters declare where they are living, but use the distance to break the rules. So, for example, Jobseekers Allowance (Contribution based) can be paid in the EU and Switzerland for three months providing the claimant registers as a jobseeker. Some are therefore claiming and working simultaneously. This applies to sickness benefits too.

Spain a hotbed

The epicentre for this kind of fraud is Spain. In a visit to the DWP's Pensions, Benefits & Healthcare team in Madrid, Iain Duncan Smith warned British people living abroad not to break the strict rules on what benefits they can and can't claim. He said: "This money should be going to the people who need it most and not lining the pockets of criminals sunning themselves overseas."

He is calling on expats living legally in Spain to call the Spanish benefits hotline on 900 554 440 to report fraud. Since its launch in 2008, over 750 calls to the Spanish hotline have resulted in criminal investigations by fraud investigators in the UK and over 100 people have been sanctioned or prosecuted. Some 134 cases are currently being investigated and £3.1 million in benefit over payments have been identified and will be reclaimed. In Spain, claims for Income Support or Pension Credit are the most frequently investigated for fraud.

Allowed to claim

He added that there are plenty of people claiming benefits overseas that they are perfectly entitled to. This includes Employment and Support Allowance (contribution based) which can be paid in EEA and Switzerland provided the claimant has paid enough in NI contributions to qualify, Winter Fuel Payment which can be paid in the EU and Switzerland provided a claimant was entitled to it before they left the UK and Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (care), Carers Allowance, State Pension and Child Benefit which can be paid abroad providing the claimant has met the UK entitlement conditions.

He highlighted that not all benefits claimants overseas are doing the wrong thing. However, he added that those who were breaking the rules were actually breaking the law, and that the government has pledged to stamp this out.

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