By Humphrey Carter and agencies

PALMA/LONDON
The British Government is going to be launching a crackdown on cheats who claim UK benefits despite living abroad in the New Year and much of the focus is going to be on expatriates living here in Spain.

Overseas benefit fraud is thought to have cost the taxpayer around £66 million last year, with scams ranging from people failing to tell officials that they have moved abroad, to continuing to claim benefits for people who have died.

In other cases, fraudsters have claimed cash while working overseas, have exaggerated disabilities or have failed to report assets, including savings, property and in some cases even yachts.

In a bid to crackdown on the problem, UK fraud officials are joining forces with overseas organisations, such as land registries, as well as the Foreign Office and UK banks to target Britons in countries where the highest level of fraud takes place. Benefit fraud hot spots include Spain, Portugal and the US, but cases have also been detected in countries such as Thailand and Sweden. Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud said: “Abroad fraud cost the taxpayer around £66 million last year. “This money should be going to the people who need it most and not lining the pockets of criminals sunning themselves overseas. “We are determined to stop benefit thieves stealing from the British taxpayer and recently launched our hotline in Portugal to make it even easier to report benefit crime.” Angela Walker, formerly of Birmingham but now living in Granada in Spain, recently pleaded guilty to benefit fraud after being reported through a hotline in Spain.

Walker had claimed more than £10'000 of income support and child tax credits since 2006, despite the fact that she was living with a partner in Spain.

EXPORTABLE BENEFITS
In November she was ordered by a court to repay the money she had taken, as well as £100 of costs.
She was also sentenced to a 12-month Community Order and will have to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.
This latest crackdown could cause further complications for those Britons living abroad who are fighting for the right to receive the exportable benefits they are entitled to but the former Labour government refused to pay, despite having been ordered to by the European Court of Justice and the European Commission.

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