Is Britain sending £30m in child benefit to EU families?
"BRITISH taxpayers are giving more than £30million a year in Child Benefit to families in other EU countries."
Daily Express, 28 May 2014
"Child benefit worth £30million paid by Britain to families across the EU but Cameron admits it is 'impossible' to stop it."
Daily Mail, 28 May 2014
The news that EU leaders have agreed to 'review' the role of the EU following gains for Eurosceptic parties in last week's European elections has dominated this morning's headlines.
However some have interpreted European Council President Herman Van Rompuy's remarks to mean that one item not on the agenda is a review of the EU's freedom of movement laws, which among other things, allow EU nationals to retain their benefit entitlements when they move to other EU countries.
Several papers suggested today that these rules mean that UK taxpayers are sending £30m to families in other EU countries. The estimate is based on data released by HMRC, but the exact sums involved are uncertain.
HMRC has data on number of claimants, but not amounts paid
The source for this claim is data released by HMRC in a parliamentary question earlier this month. This shows that there were 20,400 awards to families living elsewhere in the European Economic Area (the EEA nations, plus Switzerland) in respect of 34,268 children at the end of last year.
Families in Poland accounted for almost two thirds of the total, with 13,174 awards on behalf of 22,093 children.
In the 2013/14 tax year, parents or guardians would receive £20.30 for the eldest child and £13.40 each for any subsequent children. To get the £30m estimate for the cost of sending child benefit abroad, the papers have multiplied the annual provision for the eldest child (£1055.60) by 20,400 to get a yearly cost of £21.5m. To this they've added the annual amount provided for younger children (£696.80) multiplied by the remaining 13,868 children, giving £9.7m. This gives a total annual cost of £31.2m.
However whether this is the sum handed over by the taxpayer in practice is impossible to say on the strength of this data alone. This is because when a family is eligible to claim family benefits in another country and the UK, the British government will sometimes step in to top up the award given in the host country so that it meets UK levels.
In other words, not all of the awards listed by HMRC could be for the full rate. In some cases the other country could be paying most of the costs and the UK's would merely be topping up the difference. It's not possible to tell how much this affects the data.