More than £5m of UK taxpayers’ money lost to benefit fraud abroad is now being recovered by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investigators in Spain.
The dedicated team in Madrid has investigated more than 1,250 cases of benefit fraud by British residents over the last five years, and works closely with UK counterparts to bring fraudsters to justice.
‘Abroad fraud’ is now the fourth largest type of benefit fraud, up almost 90% in the last three years – and Spain is the top of the list, with 769 cases investigated last year alone. The free and confidential hotline to use in Spain to report suspected benefit cheats is 900 554 440.
The top three benefit fraudsters in Spain who have been convicted so far this year had claimed some £217,000 between them. All three have now received jail sentences and been ordered to repay the money they stole.
Janice Purdie, 62, from Hove, this month pleaded guilty to over £130,000 of benefit fraud and received a 12-month prison sentence. She failed to tell DWP that she owned a property in Spain and had numerous different bank accounts whilst she was fraudulently claiming Income Support, Pension Credit, Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit over a nine-year period.
Jimmy Rickner, 72, from Exeter, was this month jailed for six months for fraudulently claiming almost £50,000 of disability benefits and Pension Credit over eight years, when in fact he was living with his partner in one of two properties he owned in Spain.
Thomas Wadham, 73, of Aylesbury, falsely claimed £37,000 of Housing Benefit and Pension Credit between 2007 and 2010 while he was living in Spain. He was sentenced to six months in jail in January and ordered to pay back all the money.
The UK Government is taking more action to tackle abroad fraud by increasing the use of life certificates to stop fraudsters continuing to claim benefits when a claimant has died, and increasing data-sharing so foreign authorities tell the UK about overseas claimants.
David Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, said:
Benefit fraud is wrong both at home and abroad, and fraudsters need to know that our investigators will look into cases wherever they are and that their benefits will be stopped.
We are toughening the rules to crack down on benefit cheats and recovering more money than ever as part of the Government’s long-term economic plan – clawing back a landmark £5m in Spain.
But we know there is more to do and we are returning fairness to the welfare system to make sure it delivers for people in need and the hardworking taxpayer who funds it.
Richard West, Head of DWP Fraud and Error Service, said:
This is a significant achievement for our team in Spain and will hopefully serve as a warning to benefit cheats no matter where they are in the world.
Fraudsters need to know that our investigators have the powers to track them down and that being overseas is no hiding place. We are determined to crack down on people who play the system, so that benefits only go to those who really need this help.
If you suspect a benefit cheat in Spain, call the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) hotline on 900 554 440. Your call is free and confidential.
All fraudsters face either an administrative penalty or criminal prosecution and all must pay back every penny they have obtained, so that taxpayers’ money continues to help the people most in need.
Typical frauds committed abroad include claims by people leaving Great Britain after their claim starts, people failing to notify DWP before leaving the country or staying abroad for too long, and families who fail to report the death of someone living abroad permanently and continuing to receive benefits.
Abroad fraud totalled £82m in 2013/14, including £48m of Pension Credit, £11m of Housing Benefit, £8m of Income Support and £15m of Employment and Support Allowance. The total was slightly below the £84m in 2012/13, after rising from £55m in 2011/12 and £44m in 2010/11.