benefit fraud  

benefit fraud in the UK

  prosecuting & sentencing for benefit fraud

Several areas stand out when we look at benefit fraud and the judicial process.

1. There are surprisingly few prosecutions

Cases of overpayment soared to 499,204 in 2009/10 compared with 439,966 the year before.

But only a tiny number of the fraudsters are taken to court. In 2009/10, just 7,765 cases led to prosecutions compared with 8,701 in 2008/9. The point is that there aren't enough officials to detect and prosecute anything like this volume of offending. So deterrent sentences are needed to choke off the offending at source.

The amount of money recovered has risen over the past year from £280million to £294.4million but by far less than the estimated amount of overpayment.

2. Cases can take a long time to come to court

It can take well over a year for a case to reach court. Recent cases are updated here.

3. The legal process is cumbersome

Once the authorities have secured a conviction, they seem usually to have to start fresh court proceedings for confiscation. Even when there is money available, the process can take a long time, adding to costs. Why can't the legal system combine this into one hearing?

4. Sentences are too often light, and offer no deterrent

If a benefit fraud is dealt with by way of administrative penalty, the offender has to pay a penalty of 30%.

Supposedly the most serious sanction is court proceedings, but too often the sentences are trivial and offer no deterrent. Here are some bad examples of light sentences for benefit fraud - sadly, frequently updated.

If a fraud interviewer or a court decides on a verdict of fraud, the fraudster still gets any benefit they claim and are entitled to. It is only if they are found guilty (by the court) of fraud more than once in three years that their benefits can be ‘sanctioned’, which just means they may be reduced for up to 13 weeks.

Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should know they will have to pay back twice what they stole. They should not be eligible for any benefits until they have, and they should have to do several hours of unpaid work every week until the debt to society is cleared. That would be a deterrent. A confiscation order should be made immediately.