23 Apr 2014

More light sentences for benefit fraud

Yesterday we discussed light sentencing for benefit fraud. Today we look at three fresh examples (h/t to Dave for his contributions).

First, Samantha Buckley from Richmond, who helped herself to more than £70,000 in wrongly claimed benefits, claiming benefits as a single mother, despite living with her undeclared husband, who was in full-time employment.

She received 12 months’ custody, suspended for two years. She must also complete 240 hours of unpaid work, attend a 40-hour education and employment course and pay costs of £500, including a £100 victim surcharge.

A suspended sentence is just a warning not to offend again. The actual punishment she's received for a £70,000 fraud will take up 280 hours of her time and she has a bill of £600. Which doesn't seem a lot.

Stewart Lorains, from Saltburn, falsely claimed £24,505 in disability benefits over several years. Meanwhile he enjoyed success on the cricket field, and worked as a boxing coach and football referee. For this he got a four-month jail sentence - suspended for 12 months, so again just a warning. At least he has been ordered to repay £16,209, and it seems he'll have to sell his house. The judge warned that if he defaulted on the amount owing he would be jailed for 12 months.

Finally, one Andrew Mitchell, from Leicester, falsely claimed disability benefits of £35,793 while working as a delivery man. He was sentenced to a four month jail sentence - suspended for 12 months - plus supervision and curfew orders and £430 costs. Our old friend the suspended sentence again. Indeed, the judge said while Mitchell deserved to serve a prison sentence, it would be more helpful if he continued to work to repay his debts! So that's all right then, no real need for punishment.

After the case, astonishingly, DWP fraud area manager Roy Paul said it was “a good sentence”. No it's not, has anything bad happened to Mitchell?

He added that the DWP would pursue Mitchell through a civil court for the money. That's another thing that's wrong with the legal process. A confiscation order should be automatic when someone has been guilty of benefit fraud.

Harsh? Maybe. But it's an easy crime to commit and a hard crime to detect. So deterrence is essential.

Benefit thieves 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 know they won't 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.

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