WHILE expatriate pensioners living in Spain struggle to make ends meet due to the devaluation of the pound against the euro, there are many Brits who are raking in thousands of pounds in UK benefits, which they are not entitled to, whilst living and working in Spain.
In light of this, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has extended its successful benefit cheats hotline to the Costa del Sol and Canary Islands following its launch in Alicante in September 2008. This initiative is part of a growing relationship between Spain and the UK on social security issues that already includes agreements to data-match and share death notifications.
BBC News and BBC Radio 2 interview EWN
EWN Media Group MD Michel Euesden told Jenny Hill from BBC News in an interview carried out at the Euro Weekly News head office last week: “They’re leeches on both societies and it’s not for the Spanish government to stop them. It’s for the [UK] government to stop them.”
Michel stressed that the vast majority of expatriates living in Spain do so fully within the boundaries of Spanish law, and she clearly feels strongly against the few that are taking advantage of the British system at the expense of hard-up pensioners who can barely pay their bills. In an interview with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine, Michel explained that these people more often than not work illegally in Spain, not paying Spanish taxes or social security, yet making full use of what this wonderful country has to offer, at the expense of those who of us who do work legally.
Cheating the system
One man near Marbella told the BBC he had lived in Spain for years and had found it easy to fund his lifestyle with illegal handouts. Some rent out council houses whilst living in Spain. Others claim disability allowance; turning up in wheelchairs to collect their benefits yet can be spotted dancing the night away in expat pubs in Spain.
Last month fraud investigators busted a British family who had made 145,000 euros’ worth of false claims, when they came across photographs of them enjoying a boat trip in sunny Mallorca. Allen and Lorraine Peters from Salford, Greater Manchester, had pretended they were too sick to work with conditions from arthritis to agoraphobia.
Stealing from the British taxpayer
Employment and Welfare Reform Minister Tony McNulty said: “We are determined to stop benefit thieves stealing from the British taxpayer. Our commitment extends beyond the borders of the UK. Even in sunny Spain, we’re closing in on benefit fraud.” Successful Costa del Sol expatriate businessman and entrepreneur, Michael Mifsud said: “I do not believe that anyone should claim advantage at someone else’s expense, but people with reasonable entitlements should be able to claim them wherever they may be.” However, Roddy Steele, from Sotogrande, a 53-year-old expatriate (from Cadiz) takes a different view and says: “Having been taxed criminally by successive governments, although I have sympathy for the pensioners, I say go for it, and why didn’t that fool Brown join the Euro zone when he could?”
Theresa May speaks to EWN
EWN canvassed the opinion of the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Theresa May. “It’s essential that we crack down on benefit cheats both at home and away, so that we can make sure that all our resources go to those truly in need. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t have a great track record on tackling benefit fraud with over £2 billion of taxpayers’ money wasted in fraud and error in the benefits system every year. Instead of tackling the problem effectively and fairly, the government spends £1.50 of taxpayers’ money for every £1 of fraud uncovered and prosecutes only four per cent of cases of benefit fraud,” she told us.
Majority are law-abiding
Martin Fitches, Country Manager for the DWP in Spain told EWN: “We don’t know how many people are committing benefit fraud in Spain; however, we estimate that around one million British people are living in Spain, the majority of whom are law-abiding citizens. So with such a large resident population, it makes sense to set up a hotline here to make it easy for people to report their suspicions locally.” He said: “There is a range of benefits that can be brought with you to Spain: State pension, Incapacity Benefit and Bereavement Benefits. The benefits that you can’t bring with you are means-tested benefits, e.g. Income Support, Pension Credit, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.”
EWN asked him what are common examples of the types of benefit fraud committed in Spain. Fitches replied: “They are people who don’t tell us that they have moved here and carry on claiming means-tested benefits, for example Income Support or people who claim sickness benefits and work.”
Residents in expat areas can report suspected British benefit thieves to a local number and their concerns will be passed on to a team of investigators in the UK. The Spanish benefit fraud hotline number is 900 554 440. It is free and confidential and operates from 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. The hotline is funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
There is also a website where suspected British benefit thieves can be reported: www.dwp.gov.uk/benefit-thieves-spain/
Many may feel that blowing the whistle on a fellow expat is distasteful, but we urge all our readers to help put a stop to this. Why should the few take advantage of the system at the expense of the rest of us? It is unfair, illegal and we shouldn’t tolerate it. The total cost of benefit fraud committed by UK benefit recipients living in or travelling to countries abroad is an estimated 70 million euros a year. Meanwhile, our honest pensioners cannot afford to survive.
Just? We think not.