Husbands with multiple wives have been given the go-ahead to claim extra welfare benefits following a year-long Government review, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
* Just in thanks to Rebel
* Any idea why British taxpayers should be burdened with welfare payments for multiple Islamic spouses?
Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal.
The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record.
The decision has been condemned by the Tories, who accused the Government of offering preferential treatment to a particular group, and of setting a precedent that would lead to demands for further changes in British law.
New guidelines on income support from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) state: “Where there is a valid polygamous marriage the claimant and one spouse will be paid the couple rate … The amount payable for each additional spouse is presently Â£33.65.”
Income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband’s bank account, if the family so choose. Under the deal agreed by ministers, a husband with multiple wives may also be eligible for additional housing benefit and council tax benefit to reflect the larger property needed for his family.
The ruling could cost taxpayers millions of pounds. Ministers launched a review of the benefit rules for polygamous marriages in November 2006, after it emerged that some families had benefited financially.
The review concluded in December last year with agreement that the extra benefits should continue to be paid, the Government admitted. The decision was not publicly announced.
Four departments – the Treasury, the DWP, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office – were involved in the review, which concluded that recognising multiple marriages conducted overseas was “the best possible” option. In Britain, bigamy is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Islamic law permits men to have up to four wives at any one time – known as a harem – provided the husband spends equal amounts of time and money on each of them.
Busy life: Mohammed Anwar