Several areas stand out when we look at benefit fraud and the judicial
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
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
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
bad examples of light sentences for benefit fraud - sadly, frequently
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.