Benefit Cheats Face Up To 10 Years In Jail

The director of public prosecutions has said benefit cheats could face up to 10 years in prison under new guidelines, the BBC has reported.

Keir Starmer QC said it was time for a "tough stance" on benefit and tax credit fraud as he issued guidelines set out for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

He added that the annual cost of the crime to the nation should be at "the forefront of lawyers" minds. The cost of benefit and tax fraud is thought to be around £1.9bn each year.

The new guidelines come after the CPS merged with the Department for Work and Pensions' prosecutions division last year. It also outlines the steps prosecutors should take in deciding what offences to use, so that the charge is appropriate to the crime.

Previously, benefits cheats were commonly charged under social security legislation carrying a maximum sentence of seven years, but according to the CPS, suspects can now be charged under the Fraud Act, which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years.

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 is six months, but this financial threshold has been dropped under the new guidelines, so smaller cases can be referred straight to crown courts for tougher sentencing.

Mr Starmer is quoted as saying: "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."

He added that last year, the CPS saw more than 8,600 prosecutions in benefit and tax credit cases, while there was a further 4,000 in the first five months of 2013.

The current conviction rate is 89.7%.


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