Benefit fraudsters could get up to ten years in jail

Mon, 16/09/2013 - 13:42 -- nick

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced an increase in maximum jail terms for those convicted of benefit and tax credit fraud.

Despite its rarity - only 0.7% of welfare payments are lost to fraud - the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, says that it is time for a "tough stance".

The fact that fraud has been getting rarer suggests both that the change is unnecessary, and that it has been prompted by the government and newspapers' increasingly hard line on all benefits.

Benefit underpayment rose last year suggesting the government may be better advised to concentrate its efforts on ensuring those on low incomes receive all they are entitled to.

Currently benefit fraud is prosecuted under specific social security legislation which carries a maximum sentence of seven years, but Starmer wants the Fraud Act to be enlarged to include it.

A previous financial threshold of £20,000, below which no cases have been sent to crown courts, will be abolished to ensure those who claim small amounts of welfare wrongly can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

This means that those who falsely claim less than this amount can now be sentenced to a full ten years' prison time rather than a maximum of one year.

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."

"It is vital that we take a tough stance on this type of fraud and I am determined to see a clampdown on those who flout the system."

Aggravating circumstances, like big amounts misclaimed, evidence of multiple-person or long-term fraud, will lead to higher sentences.

Last year the CPS prosecuted 8,600 benefit and tax credit fraud cases with a conviction rate of 89%.

The government has been developing its anti-benefit rhetoric in the belief that it is popular with voters, to the extent that it followed up its benefit cap on the total a family can receive by announcing a second cap on the total the country can spend on welfare.

The development of tougher sentences for a crime of increasing rarity may be a way of hammering this point home.

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