UK-based fraud investigators at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are determined to crack down on benefit thieves who are living overseas on British taxpayers’ money.
The British Embassy in Lisbon yesterday issued a statement calling on British residents and visitors in the Algarve and other parts of Portugal to cooperate with the DWP and report anyone they know or hear of claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. This can be done by phoning a free phone fraud hotline, 800 208 638.
Fraud officials have joined forces with overseas counterparts to target Brits in countries where the most abroad fraud is carried out, including Spain and Greece, and even as far afield as Thailand and America.
Benefit fraud abroad cost the British taxpayer some £79 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,” according to the statement.
Fraud investigators work with overseas organisations, such as land registries, as well as the Foreign Office and UK banks.
Top scams include:
- people not declaring that they have moved abroad
- unreported deaths – where relatives or other third parties continue to claim
- working overseas
- unreported assets – such as properties, savings or even yachts
- exaggerated disability.
One benefit cheat recently caught after a call to the hotline was Angela Walker, of Birmingham. She had claimed more than £10,000 of income support since 2006, despite living with a partner and living abroad. She pleaded guilty to the charges in November 2010 and must now repay the cash, as well as £100 prosecution costs. The judge also sentenced her to a 12 month Community Order and 150 hours unpaid work.
Another benefit cheat, Robert Telford, pleaded guilty in March to receiving overpayments of income support and pension credit amounting to £30,895 over a period of three and a half years. He must now repay all of the overpaid benefit, as all benefit fraudsters must do. He was sentenced to a 12 month Community Order for 120 hours of unpaid work and was ordered to pay the prosecution costs of £300.
Mr Telford admitted that he had never paid much attention to the leaflets sent to him from the DWP about his benefits, nor had he told the job centre or anyone else that he was going to live abroad on a permanent basis.
Any Brits claiming benefits and intending to abroad, for any amount of time, must tell the DWP before they go as it could affect benefits. Those who go abroad and continue to claim benefits they are not entitled could face prosecution, imprisonment and even the confiscation of their home and possessions.