About two-thirds of people caught ripping off the system are hauled up before a court.
Of those, only 3% are put behind bars.
The Government has vowed to crack down on benefit cheats in a bid to halt the spiralling welfare budget. But figures show that although about 300 fraudsters are rooted out every week, just four are sent to prison.
Figures for the last financial year show 16,191 people were exposed by benefits investigators as having received a “recoverable overpayment”.
Tip of the iceberg.
Of those, 6,003 were eventually prosecuted in court and just 220 people were jailed.
Department of Work and Pensions statistics show £470m in housing benefit, £120m in employment and support allowance, £130m in pension credit, £80million in jobseekers’ allowance, plus £300m in unspecified entitlements is claimed fraudulently every year.
Studies by DWP officials have shown much of the fraud is committed by people who do not admit they are living with a partner, or lie about their income or how much they have in savings accounts.
Last year 3,213 benefit cheats avoided being taken to court by accepting an “administrative penalty”, where they are fined but avoid a criminal record.
Some people have appeared in court up to ten times on benefit fraud charges and still managed to avoid a jail sentence.
In one recent case, where £120,000 was fraudulently claimed, the culprit was told to pay the debt back through a £20 per week reduction in their handouts – meaning it will take 115 years to repay.
And Caroline Bryon, of Hyde, near Manchester, a benefits clerk employed to check for bogus claims, was spared jail after fiddling £50,000 in state handouts.
Jonathan Isaby from the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
We have to bring the benefit fraud bill down to zero because every penny stolen is not just stealing from taxpayers but takes money away from those who really need it. Eyebrows will be raised at the low number of individuals sent to prison.A DWP spokesman said: “Our focus is on preventing fraud in the first place and through our reforms, fraud and error in the benefits system has fallen to the lowest level in a decade. We have a range of penalties available to punish fraudsters and always take action to prosecute them when appropriate and in the best interests of taxpayers.”
This article is flawed, as it accepts the government's fictitious figures for benefit fraud. The correct figure is nearer £6bn. Which of course only makes the problem more pressing.
However, more imprisonment isn't an answer.
Sending people to jail costs us money. And it's not as if there are lots of spare prison places anyway. So widespread jailing isn't practical.
Benefit thieves who are above the assets threshold should have to pay back twice what they stole. They did it for the money, so give them a penalty that will hurt them.
All benefit thieves should have to do unpaid work every month until their debt is fully repaid.
And enforce it.