British expats who are living overseas and claiming benefits should beware! It emerged last week that fraud investigators from the United Kingdom have sought alliances with their overseas counterparts in an attempt to identify benefit fraud amongst the expat population… and they’re tracking you down.
Government officials from the UK have joined forces with representatives in popular expatriate destinations throughout the world, including Spain, Portugal and Thailand, in an attempt to find Brits who are fraudulently claiming benefits. Popular fraudulent activities some expats are guilty of include failing to inform authorities that they have moved overseas, falsely claiming benefits from a relative who has already passed away and claiming unemployment benefits while working abroad.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) the highest instances of fraud are recorded by people living in Spain, Pakistan, the US and Bangladesh and the government is now taking steps to work with overseas organizations, including land registries, the Foreign Office and UK banks in a bid to combat benefit crime.
Discussing the issues that the UK government face in policing benefits fraud, Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform said: “Abroad fraud cost the taxpayer around £66 million last year. This money should be going to the people who need it most and not lining the pockets of criminals sunning themselves overseas. We are determined to stop benefit thieves stealing from the British taxpayer and recently launched our hotline in Portugal to make it even easier to report benefit crime.”
At present the UK government operate two dedicated hotlines that are aimed at the expatriate communities in Portugal and Spain. The UK Benefit Fraud Hotline in Spain is 900 554 440 and the number covers Malaga, the Costa del Sol, Alicante and the Canary Islands. Lines are open 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday and calls are free and confidential.
The new UK Benefit Fraud Hotline in Portugal is (+ 351) 800 208 638. Alternatively expats can make a report online at www.dwp.gov.uk/benefit-thieves-portugal.
Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of such activity need only turn to statistics for proof that the hotlines are effective. It is believed that the Spanish hotline has received more than 750 tip-offs since it was launched in 2008. One British expatriate Angela Walker, originally from Birmingham but now living in Spain, was recently convicted of benefit fraud after being reported through the Spanish hotline. During the court case it emerged that she had claimed in excess of £10,000 of income support and child tax credits since 2006, despite the fact that she was living with a partner in Spain. She was ordered to repay all the money as well as £100 of costs. In addition to this she was sentenced to a 12-month Community Order during which she will be required to perform150 hours of unpaid work.