Polygamous Islamic husbands settling in Britain with multiple wives can claim extra benefits for their harems even though bigamy is a crime
Opposition MPs are demanding an urgent change in the law, claiming that the Government is recognising and rewarding a custom which has no legal status and which is "alien" to this country's cultural traditions.
Officials said yesterday a review was now under way into whether the state should continue to pay out income support, jobseeker's allowance and housing and council tax benefits to 'extra' spouses.
Islamic law allows a man to take up to four wives, providing he can provide for them fairly and equally. But British law only ever recognises one spouse, while bigamy is punishable by up to seven years in jail.
However, if a husband and his wives arrive and settle in Britain having wed in a country where polygamy is legal, then the UK benefits system recognises his extra wives as dependents and pays them accordingly.
The Department of Work and Pensions admitted yesterday it had no figures on how many families are claiming for multiple wives.
Official DWP guidelines on housing and council tax benefit states: "If you were legally married to more than one partner under the laws of a country that permits this, then your relationship is called a polygamous marriage.
"In this case your household consists of you and any partners who live with you and to whom you are married."
Officials were unable to say when the rules were brought in, claiming they had "evolved over decades".
Tory MP for Monmouth David Davies condemned the arrangements as "appalling", and called for an immediate halt to the payments.
He said: "People who come to this country must be prepared to abide by our laws and rules. Polygamy is completely alien to our cultural and legal tradition, and it's disgraceful that our benefits system is recognising and rewarding it.
"Why are some people in Government falling over themselves to undermine every tradition that has made this country what it is?"
Mr Davies warned that human rights laws and equality regulations could open the door for gays to demand similar recognition for multiple partnerships, with groups of men or women presenting themselves as polygamous "families".
Hugh McKinney, of the National Family Campaign, said: "Polygamy has never been tolerated under Britain's legal system.
"People arriving from another country should conform to our laws rather than the other way around."
There are thought to be thousands of polygamous marriages in Britain not recognised in law - mostly within the Muslim community.
Muslim couples are only married in the eyes of the state if they undergo a register office wedding as well as a Nikah, or religious ceremony.
Commentary: Multicultural boondoggle