Child benefit: how many families are claiming for children living abroad?

10 February 2014

"Child benefit and tax credits are currently paid to the parents of around 40,000 children living abroad, costing the Treasury around £55 million." Daily Express, 10 February 2014

With Chancellor George Osborne announcing a further £12 billion of cuts to the welfare spending last month, migrants' access to benefits has come under renewed scrutiny. Today the Express suggests that £55 million of these savings could come from barring child benefit and tax credit payments being made on behalf of kids living abroad.

While the Express doesn't say where its figures are taken from, data released by the government this time last year suggests the 40,000 figure the newspaper quotes was then roughly correct.

According to Treasury minister Sajid Javid, 40,171 child benefit claims were made on behalf of children living outside the UK in 2012, while 6,383 child tax credit awards were made with respect to children living abroad.

Nearly two thirds (64%) of the child benefit claims were on behalf of children living in Poland, while over half of the child tax credit awards were likewise. The Republic of Ireland accounted for a combined 3,816 awards, although the other two countries highlighted by the Express - Romania and Hungary - accounted for relatively few claims (0.8% and 0.6% of the combined total respectively).

It's important to bear in mind however that these figures refer to the year before large changes were made to the eligibility criteria for child benefit, which were expected to reduce the number of families able to claim by around 840,000.

The cost given by the paper for making these welfare payments on behalf of children living overseas seems to have been taken from Migration Watch research, which used the data released by Sajid Javid to calculate that if each family claimed the full amount available, the payments for which they were eligible would total £55 million.

However this doesn't necessarily mean that the Treasury is eligible for the entire sum, even if all the families do maximise their claim. Where families are claiming child benefit (or the local equivalent) in the country in which the children are living, the UK taxpayer only pays to 'top-up' the award so that it meets the UK rates.

So while the figures that are available seem to support the claim made in the Express, the numbers themselves aren't news, the cost estimate isn't necessarily as precise as the Express suggests, and due to policy changes in the past year, the true figures now may well be quite different.

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