More than £1 billion recovered from expats who take the money and run
In 2018, the world seems like a smaller place. The power of the internet has made it possible for us to talk for hours with people on the other side of the planet for free, and the increase in cheap flights means it is often more cost effective to pop over to Spain or Portugal than it is to take a train into London.
But there are more significant shifts afoot in the global community. With more people working remotely and never having to go into an office, and still more operating in that twilight world of the gig economy, there is far greater freedom to live wherever we want. About 3.8 million British citizens choose to live overseas – that’s more than five percent of the UK population, and it is a number that is increasing every year. The problem is that some of them are still claiming benefits when they do so.
Last year, the DWP launched a crackdown on international benefit fraud which led to the recovery of more than £1 billion in overpayments. The types of frauds committed were various, but all concerned claimants either living, working or owning undisclosed assets overseas.
The DWP worked with fraud experts in more than 70 countries around the world. Unsurprisingly, however, the majority of offenders were in Spain, a country that has long been popular with expats, even before the digital revolution.
Offenders fell broadly into three categories:
- Claimants still receiving UK benefits while living abroad
- Claimants receiving a UK disability allowance while working abroad
- Claimants owning undisclosed assets (typically property) abroad
10,000 international fraudsters
As a result of the crackdown, some 5,000 individuals were convicted of fraud and a further 5,000 were handed administrative penalties by the DWP. As you can well imagine, these varied hugely in nature and severity. Many were individuals who had made a genuine mistake in failing to disclose an asset, while others were clearly professional criminals, taking part in organised crime.
An example of the latter was the case of Abigail Tetteh-Lartey, a Ghanaian who stole the identities of four other Ghanaian citizens who had long since left the country, invented three more and claimed benefits in all seven names to amass more than £1 million to build an international property empire. She was sentenced to more than four years in prison.
It seems strange to talk about a case like that in the same article as we are discussing someone who might have forgotten to mention their timeshare in Alicante when filling out a benefits claim, but that is the danger when it comes to DWP crackdowns. If they are on the trail of a potential fraud, they will pursue it to its conclusion in the same way, regardless of the circumstances or the severity.
In these changing times, it is more important than ever to ensure you keep the DWP appraised of all your circumstances if you are claiming benefits – these might involve where you live, how you live, what you own and even your state of health. If you have received a communication from the DWP saying that they think you have failed to do so, don’t panic, but do get in touch with us right away, and we will be glad to help. We deal with bodies like the DWP on your behalf, meaning you don’t have to worry about calls, letters or interviews. You can give us a ring on 020 7381 8111, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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