In past months we have seen a number of benefit fraud cases reported, some involving figures of well over £15,000.Meanwhile, in Hoddesdon, Norman Benson, 78, received housing and council tax benefit of £30,038 between March 2003 and September 2010 on the basis that his only income was from a pension and pension credits.
What has been the result of these crimes, which I regard as theft? Nothing – no jail time, but it seems to be OK to "pay it back" if you can manage.
Recently, I read of a man who stole two gold bracelets, the total value being £1,000. As a result, he was sentenced to six months in prison. How does it work when benefit fraud can run into thousands of pounds and those who commit it walk free? Yet when a man steals two items to the value of £1,000, he is sent down? How can this be justice?
I don't see the logic behind these sentences. In my view, benefit fraud is not a victimless crime. Those who obtain benefit fraudulently are stealing from the city and the people of Plymouth. In another case, a man falsely claimed £29,000. Yet because it was paid back, he got 12 weeks in jail. Regardless of the refund, to my mind this was still stealing. When one contemplates £29,000 against £1,000, one must ask who got the worst deal?
In January 2010 Mr Benson approached a local newspaper with the story that his business had been ruined following the theft of a crane he owned.
An investigation then revealed that not only did Mr Benson and his son run a vehicle recovery operation, but that the family also held a licence to run a stall at Hertford Market, where they had sold eggs for at least six years.
This is the second time the council has investigated Mr Benson’s benefit claims. In 2008, he was cautioned for failing to declare that his adult son was living with him, resulting in overpaid benefit amounting to £27,897.
Help yourself, why don't you. Just a caution for all that theft? Notice he had been running this other fraud for five years by the time he received this caution, and it passed unnoticed. Indeed, he would probably still be stealing from us undetected today if he hadn't gone to the paper. Even then it took eight months to stop his benefit.
Mr Benson pleaded guilty to two charges. The judge awarded a community order for 12 months, on the condition that if he wants to leave the country or move home he must apply to the court for permission. As well as being ordered to pay back all the money fraudulently claimed, Mr Benson was also ordered to pay court costs of £350.
- These people do it for the money. So hit them in the pocket. It was money that motivated them, and a financial penalty will help to deter them.
Everyone convicted of benefit fraud who doesn't go to prison should have to do unpaid work.
Benefit thieves should also have to repay twice what they've stolen, and should not be eligible for any further benefits – including tax credits - until they have. A confiscation order should be automatic and immediate.
If you don't punish people who are convicted of an easy crime, the offence will continue to look attractive.