British expats who have recently moved abroad are being reminded that they must inform the UK authorities of a change in their circumstances if they are in receipt of benefits.

The reminder comes amid growing concern about people moving to popular European expat locations such as France and Spain while continuing to claim money from the Department of Work and Pensions.

British authorities are cracking down on benefit fraud by expats

A DWP spokesman said that people who move abroad and fail to tell the department of a change in circumstances could end up committing a criminal offence. People should speak to the department if they are going abroad for eight weeks or more.

‘The British Government takes benefit theft seriously. There is no hiding place for anyone who thinks they can get away with stealing taxpayers’ money because they are abroad,’ the spokesman explained.

‘It’s estimated that between April 2013 and March 2014 some £82 million was lost as a result of benefit fraud overpayments to British claimants who have not told us they are living or travelling abroad. That means British taxpayers are financing the fraudsters’ overseas lifestyle,’ he added.

In one recent high profile case a man from Cardiff, Dean Stuart Ahmed, continued to claim disability benefits while building up a portfolio of luxury properties in Murcia and in South Wales over 15 years.

He then rented out the properties, bringing in sizeable sums of cash but has now been jailed for two years and eight months and his properties and assets seized.

In Spain, the British Consulate in Madrid has become involved due to the high numbers of benefit fraud connected with people living in the country. It points out that just owning assets in Spain is sufficient to notify the authorities of a change.

‘Reporting a change in your circumstances such as moving abroad or buying a property is your responsibility. By failing to do so you could be committing benefit fraud, even if you do not live in Spain but have property here,’ said the Consulate spokesman.

The DWP has a dedicated team working on tracking down those abusing the system while living abroad. More than £7 million has so far been recovered from British benefit fraudsters living in Spain.

There is a free hotline which members of the public can call anonymously to report suspected benefit thieves in Spain. ‘If you know someone who you suspect is committing benefit fraud in Spain, please call the free and anonymous hotline on 900 55 44 40. You will be doing your bit to make sure that benefits, money that comes from taxpayers, go to the people who really need them,’ added the spokesman.