ALMOST 50,000 children who live abroad are receiving benefits claimed by immigrant families living in Britain, official figures have revealed.
Just under 30,000 families are claiming child benefits and tax credit for offspring who live outside the UK but within the European Union, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, which are members of the European Economic Area (EEA).
Poland is home to the highest number of children in the EU receiving benefits claimed in the UK, with more than half the total, 25,659, receiving welfare.
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The figures were disclosed by Sajid Javid, a Treasury Minister, in a written answer to Labour's Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee.
Mr Vaz said: "I am very surprised at this figure. Most people would consider it wrong for people to receive child benefit when the children are living abroad permanently."
Parents can claim child benefit of £20 a week for their eldest child and £13 a week for each of their other children, while child tax credit is worth at least £545 a year.
The data will fuel concerns about the impact of an expected wave of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria when temporary controls lapse at the end of the year.
While the UK Government has refused to give an estimate of the numbers of people who might move to Britain after gaining the right to live and work here, campaigners Migration Watch UK have predicted up to 250,000 Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants could arrive during the next five years.
Mr Javid explained the "main purpose" of child benefit and child tax credit was to support UK families, but added that they were family benefits protected by European Commission rules that covered the social security rights of nationals of all EEA member states.
Around 7.5 million families are claiming child benefit for around 13 million children.