Benefits Abroad

I was surprised to hear on BBC news 24 that the British Government has launched a hotline in a bid to track down British benefit fraudsters living in Portugal. I couldn't understand what benefits it was possible to claim, honestly or fraudulently, if one moved to Portugal. After Googling I eventually found out from the PA that the biggest problem was people on means-tested benefits going abroad but failing to declare their absence, and individuals working while claiming sickness benefits.

There was a time that benefits could only be claimed by signing on at a benefits office weekly or fortnightly and that benefits moneys could only be obtained by cashing a Giro or a benefit payment book in a named post office; making falsely claiming benefits whilst living abroad rather difficult. As a reward to political backers from the banking community Tony Blair and New Labour decided to make benefits automatically payable into bank accounts, in order to force the 20% of people who didn't have bank accounts in 1997 to open one; so that the poor could be ripped off by punitive bank charges. A very socialist policy!

A silly thought, perhaps, but wouldn't it be better to go back to a system of signing on and getting your cash from a named PO, rather than setting up foreign hotlines for ex-pats to shop their neighbours?

Before I found the PA report I found a DirectGov site that informs claimants about which benefits they can claim abroad. There aren't that many, in fairness. You can continue to get Job Seekers Allowance if you go abroad to look for work for a very short time. If you work for the Government or a British Company abroad you can get things like Statutory Maternity Pay and Statutory Sick Pay – which, I suppose, is fair enough.

The abroad benefit that really tickled me, however, is the Winter Fuel Allowance. This a benefit paid to pensioners to make sure that they are able to heat their homes in winter. The weather in January in the Algarve, the Balearic Islands, Alicante etc is often hotter in January than it is in July and August in parts of Britain – so why on earth are wealthy ex-pat pensioners in these warm climates paid this benefit?

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