LONDON – British expats who commit fraud by living abroad but still claiming benefits face a new crackdown aimed at weeding out thousands who are costing the country more than £80 million.
New figures published by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) show that in the past year, 769 cases were detected in Spain, 628 in Pakistan, 298 in Turkey, 282 in India, 246 in the United States, 213 in France, 180 in Bangladesh, 172 in Thailand, 130 in Australia and 126 in Cyprus.
Overall, some 7,296 British nationals were accused of fiddling their benefits in 157 countries and regions worldwide with the most common cases involving bogus claims for pension credit, housing benefit and income support.
Included are a couple from Pontypool, Wales who illegally received £140,000 after claiming they didn’t have partners and were unfit for work, yet were living a life of luxury in Spain. Earlier this year, they were both sentenced to pay back the full amount and sentenced to four months in prison at Newport Crown Court.
Another woman said she was crippled by a fear of open spaces which left her housebound, but she was discovered by investigators at the beaches of Goa, India, where she had bought a holiday home. She claimed £134,000 of taxpayers’ money over 13 years and also spent thousands of pounds on cosmetic surgery.
The woman, who was pictured sunning herself on an empty beach and riding a horse, spent money on a tummy tuck, liposuction and work on her ‘bingo wings’. She was jailed last month for 27 months at Plymouth Crown Court after admitting unlawfully obtaining benefits.
However, the DWP report also reveals how easily expats can commit fraud. Many cases involved people who failed to inform the DWP they were living abroad, or not reporting the death of someone entitled to receive benefits.
According Richard West, head of the DWP’s counter fraud teams, cases range from people hiding foreign assets and homes to those moving abroad, either temporarily or permanently, at the taxpayers’ expense.
‘Benefit cheats need to know that even if they are out of the country, our teams will still investigate and, where necessary, bring them back to the UK to face justice,’ he said.
‘We’re clamping down on fraud both at home and abroad so money goes to those who need it most, rather than lining the pockets of criminals sunning themselves overseas,’ said Welfare Minister Mark Harper.
‘We’re toughening up the system and working more closely with foreign authorities so we can bring benefit cheats to court and make sure they’re appropriately punished. More fraudsters are realizing there are no hiding places when you break the law,’ he added.