Are 10,000 British emigrants receiving £1million in benefits?

11 January 2012

Yesterday, the Daily Mail's front page headline drew attention to the supposed "10,000 Britons abroad claiming £1million a week in benefits."

The story also appeared on the Telegraph's website.

The Mail article — the online version of which is accompanied by a photograph of sunbathing Britons enjoying their European summer holidays - highlights the "£94.25 a week" which it suggests claimants of incapacity benefit can enjoy whilst living abroad.

The article goes on to state that the Department of Work and Pensions' (DWP) policy of reassessing incapacity benefit claimants will not include 4,000 expat Brits aged 60 or above, thus allowing some claimants to continue receiving such payments until retirement.

So where can these figures be found and what do they tell us?

The latest published data involving Britons abroad who claim incapacity benefits appears to be for May 2011. The figures can be found via the tabulations tool on the DWP website.

A quick calculation informs us that 8,800 British expats claim incapacity benefits abroad, differing significantly from the Daily Mail's higher figure of 'at least 10,000', which is attributed to a DWP estimation. 

The Mail's headline also claims that taxpayers pay £1million a week towards incapacity benefits abroad. This is rounded down from a figure of "up to £940,000" mentioned later in the article, based on the assumption that all British expats receive the maximum amount of incapacity benefit: £94.25. The Mail's £940,000 can therefore be seen as a 'worst-case scenario' estimation.

However the DWP tabulation tool also contains some data on the average amount of Incapacity benefit actually claimed by ex-pats: the average payment is £80.99 per week.

Due to the discrepancies between the Mail's statistics and those published on the DWP website, it is no surprise that each returns a different figure regarding the total expenditure per week. The Mail multiplied the estimated 10,000 expat claimants with the maximum benefit of £94.25 to achieve a figure of '£940,000.' Yet by multiplying 8,800 incapacity benefit claimants by the average payment of £80.99, the DWP tabulator returns a figure of £712,712.

It must also be noted that the Telegraph appears to use the same statistics as the Mail in order to reach its £50 million per year annual pay-out figure.   

Meanwhile, the final claim is that 4,000 over 60s will not be subjected to incapacity benefit tests. Again, this figure differs substantially with the DWP tabulation figure of 2,680.

The discrepancies between the figures quoted in the Daily Mail and those shown on the DWP website suggests that different data has been used.

In light of this, Full Fact has contacted the DWP to confirm that these are the latest available figures, and in any case to shed light on the source of the reported figures. We will update as soon as we receive a response.

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