The British and Spanish authorities have joined forces in the fight to bring benefit fraudsters to justice through new information sharing arrangements.
The UK government is committed to clamp down on fraudsters who cheat the system to obtain taxpayers’ money that should be going to people needier than themselves.
Sharing information, such as deaths of British nationals in Spain, helps the UK to ensure that the pensions and benefits of deceased expatriates are stopped as soon as possible, to avoid large overpayments to benefit recipients that then need to be paid back.
The sharing of information also helps to identify fraudsters who deliberately fail to report the death of a family member to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in order to continue fraudulently receiving the pension or benefit.
One such case involved Michael Higgs and Nancy Rutter who together stole more than £39,000 from the public purse by continuing to draw the benefits of a deceased family member. Data matching between the UK and Spain revealed that Higgs’ father had died in Spain in 2005 yet the couple, who were living in Malaga, had failed to notify the DWP of the death.
Thinking they would never be caught, they continued to fraudulently claim the father’s benefit. After being found guilty of fraud, and as well as having to pay back the money they had stolen, Higgs was given 18 months in prison and Rutter received two sentences of 30 months and 18 months to run concurrently.
A criminal record can easily be avoided by keeping the DWP informed of any change in personal circumstances, including the death of a family member who is in receipt of a pension or benefit. Failing to do so can lead to hefty overpayments that will have to be paid back, and even a prison sentence.
For further details on how you can report someone you suspect of committing benefit fraud, visit http://www.dwp.gov.uk/benefit-thieves-spain/ or call the DWP’s free and confidential benefit fraud hotline in Spain on 900 55 444 0. The UK and Spain are working together to tackle benefit fraudsters.