Just 149 of 5,851 convicted fraudsters were sent to prison last year, even though the Government wants to clamp down on the spiralling welfare budget.
An estimated £1.6billion is swindled from the benefit budget, costing the taxpayer £30million a week, but fewer cheats have been jailed year on year since 2009.
The report by the Department for Work and Pensions revealed that benefit fraud is at “its highest recorded rate”. It also warned that more cheats could be escaping justice because some fraud methods are difficult to detect.
John O’Connell of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said:
It is important for DWP to crack down on benefit cheats when Government statistics show that the level of fraud remains stubbornly high.Record numbers of fraudsters were jailed in 2009, with 309 people receiving custodial sentences.
Unfortunately the welfare system continues to be dogged by complexity. Until there are moves to simplify and remove the opportunity for fraud the authorities will continue to lose significant sums of taxpayers’ money.
The Government must now redouble their efforts because the welfare system must be there as a safety net for the neediest in society, not a comfort blanket for those more than capable of looking after themselves.
But since 2011 fewer criminals have been sent to jail: 291 people were imprisoned in 2011, 262 in 2012, 233 in 2013, 221 in 2014 and the 149 last year.
The past 10 years saw a sharp rise in the number of suspended sentences for benefit fraud but last year saw the third highest average fine in the past decade.
The Government paid out £148bn in benefits in 2009/10, £153bn in 2010/11, £158bn in 2011/12, £166bn in 2012/13, £164bn in 2013/14 and £168bn in 2014/15. It is forecast to spend £171bn in 2015/16.
In July, a mother of 12 was spared jail after fraudulently claiming more than £150,000. Melanie Edwards, 40, said she was bringing up her family alone, but was still with her husband Brian. Both worked at a local dessert factory while she claimed tax and housing benefits.
A DWP spokesman said sentences were “a matter for the independent courts”. He added:
Our focus is on preventing fraud in the first place, as well as investigating and stopping the small minority of people who do commit fraud.Source
Through our reforms, fraud and error in the benefits system is at a record low.
We have a range of penalties available to punish fraudsters and always take action to prosecute them when appropriate... convicted fraudsters will also have to face the consequences of having a conviction.
Benefit thieves do it for the money. They should have to pay back twice what they stole. They should not be eligible for any benefits until they have, and they should have to do some unpaid work every week until the debt to society is cleared.