The daughter of a deceased benefit claimant, who was living in Portugal, has been sentenced to 12 months in prison in the UK after falsely claiming over £73,500 in benefits. Maria Joao Ferreira Lucas, whose mother passed away in January 2008, posed as her mother to claim her benefits. She failed to inform the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her mother’s death and transferred all benefits claimed by her mother into her own account.
In June of 2008 Ms Lucas phoned the DWP, posing as her mother and asked for all benefits to be paid into her account. Ms Lucas then wrote to Lambeth Local Authority, claiming to be her mother and asked for all council tax benefits to also be redirected to her own account in Portugal.
Ms Lucas had been living in Portugal for a number of years but through the DWP team, who look at cases of benefit fraud abroad, officers were able to track down sufficient information for her arrest. When Ms Lucas returned to the UK on 10th September she was arrested and interviewed. She made a full admission that she had fraudulently claimed benefits in her deceased mother’s name and that she had been living in Portugal.
The hearing, which took place on Wednesday 8th October in London, concluded that the total loss to the DWP and the Lambeth Local Authority was £73,526.66, from false claims of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Housing Benefit, Carers Allowance and Income Support fraudulently claimed by Ms Lucas.
The DWP teams working on abroad fraud are now in the process of establishing relationships with authorities in countries like Portugal, where officers were able to obtain intelligence for Ms Lucas’s case. This is part of an ongoing effort to crack down on benefit fraud abroad which in 2013/14 was reported to cost taxpayers an estimated £82 million.
New and improved methods are now in place to target benefit thieves wherever they are and government departments are working together to catch anyone taking advantage of the system. The Portuguese hotline [800 208 638] is a free and confidential hotline that members of the public can call and report suspected benefit thieves and is open from 7am-3pm Portuguese time.
22 October 2014
British Embassy, Lisbon