The U.K. Department for Work and Pensions says it is cracking down on expats who are illegally taking benefits.
Fraudulent claims totaled more than £82 million in the last year, with Spain one of the primary target for the investigations. Of the 7,296 British nationals investigated last year, 769 were in Spain, according to data released this week. (The second largest group was in Pakistan.)
“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,” welfare minister Mark Harper told the Daily Mail. “More fraudsters are realising there are no hiding places when you break the law.”
The DWP says it is improving data sharing with foreign governments and the updated policing is working. The latest “abroad fraud” figure is a drop from the £84million fraudulently claimed by expats a year earlier, the agency says.
The agency says fraudulent claims for pension credit, sickness and disability benefits and income support make up the majority of claims. In many cases, expats are trying to hide foreign assets and homes, the agency says.
Examples offered by the agency from Spain included a couple who were “living a life of luxury,” while claiming to be unfit to work. They were sentenced to four months in prison in June and ordered to repay £140,000.
The agency also found cases where families failed to report the death of pensioner and continued to receive their benefits.
One level of enforcement has already irritated many expats — the increasing use of “life certificates,” which requires expats to send in paperwork to prove they are still alive.