Expat benefit fraudsters who try and claim money at home while living abroad are facing a British government crackdown.
Thousands of benefit fraudsters leave the country every year but fail to cancel their claims, leaving taxpayers with a bill of around £82 million a year.
So many crooks are moving to Spain and France that the British authorities have set up benefit fraud investigation units in some major cities.
Recent investigations have netted more than £7 million from fraudsters in Spain.
Summer is one of the most popular times of year for benefit fraudsters to spend time out of the country – and the Department of Work and Pensions has warned claimants that falsely taking payments is a crime and they could face prosecution.
Jail for offender
“Many may not consider going abroad and claiming benefits a big deal, but the law says they must notify us of any change in circumstances so we can take the appropriate action over their payments,” said a Department of Work and Pensions spokesman.
“If they leave Britain for eight weeks or more, they should tell us before they go.
“The government considers this theft and takes the matter seriously. People believe they can get away with this crime, but new systems and technology mean they cannot steal taxpayer money with impunity.”
The DWP has access to flight and ferry arrival and departure data and also monitors social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to highlight possible benefit fraudsters.
The government department also runs campaigns in France and Spain that have resulted in prosecutions for benefit fraud.
In a recent trial, a court was told Dean Ahmed, from Cardiff, collected rents as landlord of a buy to let portfolio in the UK and Spain.
He was jailed for 32 months and had the property seized by the courts.
The British Consulate in Madrid keeps tabs on property ownership by British nationals in Spain.
Owning a home abroad is a notifiable change that could affect benefit payments and enough to trigger an investigation.
The DWP is also linked in to the Spanish land registry.
“It doesn’t matter whether the claimant lives in another country or not, the offence is committed when they fail to report that they own a property,” said the DWP spokesman.
“We would view this as a benefit fraud and take action.”
The DWP urges anyone who knows of a benefit fraudster in Spain to contact a free telephone hotline with the details on 900 55 44 40’