Benefit fraud could lead to 10-year jail terms, says DPP

 
Prison cell Suspects can now be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years

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Benefit cheats in England and Wales could face longer jail terms of up to 10 years, following new guidance from the director of public prosecutions.

Keir Starmer QC said it was time for a "tough stance" given the £1.9bn annual cost of the crime to the nation.

He urged prosecutors to consider charging under the Fraud Act - rather than social security laws - because of the scope for longer sentences.

The prime minister's spokesman said he welcomed the move.

The BBC's legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the changes meant welfare cheating would now be classed alongside offences such as money laundering and banking fraud.

Cash limit

Benefit fraud statistics (2011)

  • 6,080 offenders were sentenced - the lowest number since 2001. (A total of 16,317 offenders were sentenced for all types of fraud in 2011)
  • 79% of cases were seen at the magistrates' court
  • 41% were given a community order, which means offenders serve their whole sentence in the community
  • 17% were fined
  • 16% were given an absolute or conditional discharge
  • Nearly 5% (291 offenders) were given immediate custody. The average sentence length was seven months, three weeks
  • 54% of offenders sentenced were female (compared with 26% for all fraud offences)

*Due to data classification, not all benefit fraud offences are included.

Source: Fraud Offences Sentencing Data (June 2013)

In the past, benefits cheats were commonly charged under social security legislation carrying a maximum sentence of seven years.

And benefit frauds of less than £20,000 were automatically tried in magistrates' courts, which could only sentence people to up to 12 months imprisonment for multiple offences. For a single offence, the maximum was six months.

This financial threshold has been scrapped under the new guidelines, so smaller cases can be referred straight to crown courts for tougher sentencing.

Suspects can also now be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

In 2012, the number of offenders jailed for benefit fraud was 262 and the average sentence length was six months and one week.

Stolen identity

Mr Starmer said: "It is a myth that 'getting one over on the system' is a victimless crime: the truth is we all pay the price. But it's not only the taxpayers that suffer.

"Benefits exist to protect and support the most vulnerable people in our society and, whenever the system is defrauded, it's also taking money away from those with a genuine need."

The DPP said prosecutors should consider a number of factors when deciding how to charge, including:

  • Whether the fraud was professionally planned
  • Whether multiple frauds occurred or a single fraud was carried out over a significant period of time
  • Whether a false or stolen identity was used
  • Whether the perpetrator abused a position of trust in order to commit the offence

The move comes after the CPS merged with the Department for Work and Pensions' prosecutions division last year.

The Independent's Owen Jones: "Paedophiles, rapists and murderers are going to have lesser sentences than people who commit benefit fraud"

Jonathan Isaby, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, welcomed it, saying: "This is people stealing from taxpayers - stealing from vulnerable people.

"A message needs to go out that this is unacceptable and increasing sentences will act as a deterrent."

But Labour MP Theresa Pearce, who is a member of the Commons' Work and Pensions Committee, accused Mr Starmer, who is due to stand down from his CPS role in October, of "trying to look tough" on benefit cheats.

"Ten years in prison, really? For something that could be like a couple of thousand pounds. Yes, that's bad and there's a way you should get it back but I just don't understand why this is his priority in his final months," she said.

Earlier this year, MPs on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee called on the government to give a "swift assurance" that the introduction of its new welfare system, known as universal credit, would not cause a rise in benefit fraud.

Universal credit will eventually replace six key means-tested benefits with one payment.

Last year, the CPS saw more than 8,600 prosecutions in benefit and tax credit cases, and 4,000 in the first five months of 2013, Mr Starmer said. The current conviction rate is 89.7%, he added.

The government says it has saved hundreds of millions of pounds by introducing better fraud prevention and reducing errors in the tax and benefit system.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Benefit fraud is very serious. It's wrong and that's why the prime minister warmly welcomes this announcement."

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 907.

    And what about Starbucks, Vodaphone, Bankers......the list is almost endless...no wonder taxes are so high when half the country is on the fiddle.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 906.

    All fraud needs to be rooted out.
    What is the difference between bankers stealing taxpayers bailout money for personal use and, the 'standard' welfare fraudster?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 905.

    benefit fraud max sentence in UK = 10 years
    Manslaughter max sentence in UK = 14 years

    So obviously, causing somebody's death is only a little bit worst than stealing a few quid.

    Not that I agree with tax fraud, but the two sentences seem a little unjust??? One needs to change!

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 904.

    10 years for benefits cheats, but how does that compare with time actually served for murderers, rapists and lying politicians?

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 903.

    885.Swing Lowe
    A very large percentage of the long term unemployed are disabled. This includes people with mental illness such as schizophrenia whom I work with in the community on a voluntary basis. Your remarks suggest a hideous callousness which sadly permeates all main parties. I'm sure you would welcome workhouses for disabled soldiers. Welcome to the new Dickensian Britain.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 902.

    We are talking about benefit cheats. Our taxes and our money. Let the bankers, the MP's, the big multinationals all keep their own houses in order. We are talking about people taking more of our money than that to which they are entitled.. We are the same people who are crying because we haven't had a pay rise in a long time but we give money to thieves all the time.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 901.

    The only real punishment is to prevent those found guilty to be prevented from claiming any future benefits for a fixed period of time or until the amount owed plus costs is repaid. Additionally, I would introduce a bounty for information leading to the convinction of someone committing benefit fraud.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 900.

    According to http://www.thelawpages.com/court-cases/maximums.php

    Indecent Assault carries a maximum penalty of 10 years so are we saying that this is the same thing in the eyes of the law.

    Ridiculous! Firstly you should no longer be able to claim benefits and then you should be made to do community service until you are deemed to have paid back to the state what you stole. Jail is not the answer

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 899.

    How about prison for HSBC execs, sued for funnelling $8.9 billion to the largest ponzi-scheme in history - Bernie Maddof's investment business. HSBC sued for suppressing price of silver and gold via DERIVATIVES, making billions. State of Hawaii suing HSBC for deceptive credit card lending practices. DZ Bank suing HSBC for deceptive (lying) practices selling home-loan-backed securities. Jail?

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 898.

    Benefit fraud = 0.7% (£1.2B) reducing year on year.
    Accidental over payments= £2.2B. Underpaid benefits= £1.4B.
    If all benefit fraud stopped & all accidental payments & underpayments didn't happen the benefits bill would still go up!
    HMRC estimates that tax avoidance costs the country over £30B a year.
    So lets get them so n so's who are fiddling a couple of quid rather than fix the system.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 897.

    @ 841. Swing Lowe
    'Ban long term unemployed people from:....'
    /////
    OK, but first ban UK ship owners from using cheap foriegn labour so our sailors can work again. Ban email and internet so thousands of Disptch Riders can work again. Ban industrial robots. Clamp down on illegal immigration FOR REAL, and swing trolls high!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 896.

    We should focus on making the system harder to cheat in first place. Britain Tax and Benefit system giving more space for anyone to cheat. For example how govt monitors Rental Income of any person? Only god knows. I called HM revenue by myself and I said I am getting xx from Rent (and I was honest). But they didnt made any check to verify its correctness, that encourages people to be dishonest.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 895.

    @800 "I have just returned from a car park and was unable to use the disabled parking space due to it being used by two perfectly able persons most probably using granny's blue card."

    You know what they say about the word "Assume" don't you?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 894.

    883. feedbackloop
    I quickly found loads of benefit fraud cases for sums between £50k and £150k often punished with community service.

    Can you give us a few examples?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 893.

    Remind me just how many MP's and bankers have been jailed over their frauds?

    Nor were or are we talking about the same sort of figures.

  • Comment number 892.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 891.

    As long as MP's and their ilk continually 'play' this system, then this is simply empty rhetoric.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 890.

    Rapists get less.

    This country is disgusting.

    Ashamed to be British...Is it possible to renounce my citizenship?

    I am fortunate enough to have one of the very VERY few jobs available on this island, but the way the poor are treat makes me gag.

    I will no longer call myself British. I am European, or Northumbrian, but British? Hell no!

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 889.

    So theft is o.k. as long as its the Idle and that its just the hard working tax payers who are the victims .That's what it seems many on here are saying. disgraceful and disgusting are the only words that come to mind.......

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 888.

    In a social club in Plymouth an older lady that 'works!' there is under investigation for benefit fraud had her mobility car removed. 2 weeks later she is driving a new mobility car drawn out under her husband’s name.People on the sick and the dole do not do 'nothing' all day.They spend time devising new ways to work the benefits sytems, and share the intelligence with others in the fraternity.

 

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