At present additional wives can receive reduced individual income support, meaning the husband and his first wife receive up to £114.85. Subsequent spouses living under the same roof receive a reduced allowance of about £40 each.
Under the new system of universal credit, polygamous marriages are not recognised at all.
But a House of Commons library paper, published earlier this month, has highlighted a loophole that will allow additional wives to claim a full single person’s allowance while the husband and his first wife still receive theirs.
“The Government decided that the universal credit rules will not recognise additional partners in polygamous relationships,” the paper states.
“This could potentially result in some polygamous households receiving more under universal credit than under the current benefit and tax credit system.
“Treating second and subsequent partners in polygamous relationships as separate claimants could in some situations mean polygamous households receive more under universal credit than they do under the current rules for means-tested benefits and tax credits.
The news comes as universal credit, introduced in April 2014, is applied to more Jobcentre areas, including Kent and Leicestershire, from tomorrow. More, including Cambridge and Hull, are set to introduce it before April this year.
Universal credit is to replace all means-tested benefits and tax credits for families of working age and is gradually being introduced to new claimant groups and areas.
It is not expected to be fully introduced until 2021 when all existing claimants of legacy benefits, including means-tested benefits and tax credits, will have transferred to the new benefit.
Although there is no official estimate of the number of polygamous marriages, it has been suggested there could be as many as 20,000 in the UK.
Last night a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The previous system accommodated polygamous marriages but this Government has done away with it. Under new rules any additional partners who are unemployed have to claim benefits independently and will need to sign a claimant commitment, and look for work like anyone else. They will also not get benefits for housing costs if they are living together.” Read More