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Tuesday April 24, 2012

Fraud abroad and the benefit cheats

It seems that Ian Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has a new cause. Having declared battle on benefit cheats in the UK, he has now set his sights on Spain.

According to the government, Spain is the number one country for fraud abroad with many Britons lapping up the sun while falsely claiming to be living in the UK in order to claim benefits back home. The culprits apparently claim illegally for income support, pension credit, disability living and job seekers allowances costing the UK taxpayer £43 million per year. There are currently 134 cases under investigation in Spain and £3.1 million in benefit overpayments identified which are due to be reclaimed. Entitlements include the winter fuel payment-allowed in the EU and Switzerland-provided the claimant was entitled to it before leaving England’s shores, state pension, child benefit and disability living and attendance allowances.

One has to wonder why the government has got itself in such a pickle with so many people having been able to slip through the net. But then again if these very same offenders were living back in the UK they’d no doubt be claiming for every benefit under the sun (or cloud). As they say where there’s a will there’s a way. In order to curb the trend, the government has set up a new benefit and fraud hotline and website encouraging law abiding Britons to report on potential expat cheats.

On the other side of the coin, the Spanish government has decided to crack down on health tourism from the UK with Ana Mato, the Minister for Health, blaming unscrupulous Britons and other immigrants of illegally seeking free medical treatment and operations in the country which cost the Spanish taxpayer €1 billion. She claims that family members of foreign residents visit the country purely for medical care despite having no residency status. In the future foreign residents will have to prove that they are working and paying taxes in the country, or are retired and therefore entitled under EU law.

In a separate spat, ABC, the right wing Spanish daily newspaper criticised advice on the British Embassy website regarding access to healthcare in Spain and was offered a swift and robust response from Giles Paxman, the British Ambassador to Spain, stating that Britain did not condone health tourism and expected its citizens to seek medical assistance in full compliance with Spanish legislation.

In straightened times access to healthcare and benefits will become an increasingly hot potato in both Spain and the UK so for those Britons seeking a free ride, the future looks bleak. Never has it been a better time to get fit or find work.

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