Increasing Jail Terms for Benefit Fraud

by melissa on October 29, 2013

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In September 2013, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) issued new guidance in relation to punitive measures that can be taken against people convicted of benefit fraud. They could now face up to ten years in prison. This is a crime that is estimated to cost the UK around 1.9 billion pounds per year and the government are keen to crack down on it.

Use of different laws

The DPP has advised prosecutors to make use of the Fraud Act when charging people. Currently, most people are charged with offences found in social security laws but by using the Fraud Act, judges will be given the option of imposing tougher sentences. The move will mean that benefit and tax credit fraud will be treated similarly to offences such as money laundering and fraud against banks. If you are affected by this and concerned by the new approach, tax credit fraud solicitors will be able to advise you and help you to defend any prosecution.

What was happening previously?

Up until last month, the use of social security legislation to prosecute tax credit and benefit fraud meant that the maximum sentence that could be imposed was seven years. It also meant that where the case involved under £20,000 it would always be tried summarily in a magistrates court. In Magistrates Courts, there is no jury but instead, three magistrates decide on the outcome of the trial and what punitive measures would be appropriate. It is for this reason that the maximum sentence they can give is limited to six months for a single offence or twelve months where there are multiple offences.

How do the new guidelines change this?

The advice of the DPP has meant that cases of benefit and tax credit fraud can be referred straight to Crown Court where tougher sentences can be imposed. The £20,000 limit is no longer relevant so even cases involving smaller amounts of money could be sent to the Crown Court. Additionally, charging suspects under the Fraud Act means that the maximum possible sentence increases from seven to ten years. Last year, the average sentence length for benefit fraud was a week over six months and a total of 262 people were jailed. Both the number and the sentence length are now set to increase.

Do prosecutors still have discretion on how to deal with people?

The latest update from the DPP is advice to prosecutors in the form of guidelines which means that they do still have discretion on how to act. In particular, they have been asked to consider whether there was a single or multiple offences, whether it was planned, whether the crime involved the use of a false identity and whether the suspect was in a position of trust that was abused in order to commit the offence. Around 90% of all prosecutions in cases involving benefit and tax credit fraud result in a conviction and last year, there were 8,600 prosecutions.


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