Government publishes overseas benefit claimant research
The UK has made it clear that it will not tolerate people from other countries claiming DWP working age benefits, if they have not worked or paid tax in the UK, warning that claimants failing to prove their immigration status will soon be rooted out and stripped of their benefits.
It will also be exploring ways to effectively review the immigration status checks of claimants on a regular basis to ensure benefit is being properly paid and to stop fraud where it has occurred.
The warning came soon after the Government published overseas benefit claimant research on 20 January: the first detailed research tracks the country of origin of benefit claimants currently in the UK, who were overseas nationals when they entered the country.
As the previous Government did not keep records of the nationality of a benefit claimant, it has not been possible to publish details up to now. These figures were produced as a result of a series of data matches between the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), UK Border Agency and HM Revenue and Customs to build the best possible picture.
As of February 2011, there were 371,000 people claiming DWP working age benefits, who were non-UK nationals when they first registered for a National Insurance Number. Of these, 258,000 were non-EEA nationals.
Many of the 258,000 non-EEA nationals at the time of National Insurance Number registration are now British Citizens and as such are fully entitled to means tested benefits as are EEA nationals and some non-EEA nationals. Of those where a match could be found, 54 per cent of the claimants who were non-EEA nationals at time of registration for National Insurance Numbers have become British citizens.
A follow up sample exercise looked at the cases of 9,000 non-EEA nationals. The results of that exercise matched nearly three out of four cases between the departments’ records. Of those that were fully matched, 98 per cent were matched to an immigration or nationality status entitling them to benefit.
Two per cent of cases appeared to have no lawful immigration status and the legitimacy of their status for benefit purposes is now being investigated.
The DWP is co-coordinating with UKBA to review the small number of cases where it appears that benefit is being claimed illegitimately. Where this is the case, benefit will be stopped and further enforcement activity considered.
DWP notes that "the results of these investigations will be passed to HM Revenue and Customs and local authorities, in order to ensure any tax credits, child benefit or housing benefit will also be withdrawn."
With the introduction of Universal Credit from 2013, the Government is developing ways to record nationality at source. In addition the Government will be exploring ways in which it can effectively review the immigration status checks of claimants on a regular basis to ensure that benefit is being properly paid and to stop fraud where it has occurred.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling commented the research saying that "It is not acceptable that people from other countries can claim our benefits if they have not worked or paid tax in the UK. We will root out those claimants who can not prove their immigration status and in turn they will be stripped of their benefits.
"I was shocked to discover that the current system does not record the nationality of benefit claimants and we are urgently taking steps to make sure we know exactly how many non-UK nationals are claiming UK benefits. Welfare reform is giving us the opportunity to reshape the system and in developing of Universal Credit we are looking at how to record nationality at source.”
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "These findings uncover a worrying issue we have inherited, which is why we’ve ordered urgent work to pursue claimants suspected of abuse and to withdraw their benefits if they cannot prove they are entitled to claim.”
"We are taking a zero tolerance approach towards abuse of this kind, including where this involves fraud by foreign nationals with no right to access benefits.
Exchequer Secretary David Gauke said: "This Government will not tolerate people who dishonestly divert money away from those who are genuinely entitled to it. We will provide support to people who come to this country in line with our national and international obligations.
“However, we also have a duty to protect taxpayers from possible abuse. DWP will pass the data of those who should not be in receipt of benefits to HMRC, who will look into all relevant tax credit and child benefit awards and cancel them where necessary."
Download the research report: Nationality at point of National Insurance number registration of DWP benefit claimants
Links to DWP additional statistical analyses.