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The Consequences of Committing Benefit Fraud

Date: (16 September 2011)    |    

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Duncan Lewis:When someone is found guilty in the UK of having committed benefit fraud against the taxpayer and the state, the seriousness of the fraud will be the determining factor in setting the level of punishment. In less severe instances, the accused may get off with a fine, whilst in more severe ones a custodial sentence could be handed down and the accused sent to prison for a certain period of time. For crime solicitors, this is a particularly busy area.

Whether the punishment is a fine or a prison sentence, the accused will also be required to pay back all the money they stole from the taxpayer and, in addition, they will have a criminal record which could harm them for life when it comes to future employment and life prospects in general. On top of all of this, a confiscation order could well be issued against them and their possessions and even their home itself taken from them. So, contrary to some popular belief, committing benefit fraud is an activity fraught with dire consequences if caught, which the vast majority of fraudsters usually are.

If the accused is given the lighter punishment of having to pay a fine, this will be the Administrative Penalty Fine, and it is set at about 30% of the amount defrauded from the state. There is no room for negotiation here; this amount is mandatory, and must be paid in addition to the total amount of the fraud. If the Department of Works and Pensions thinks that the evidence against the accused is complete enough for the case to go to court they may offer the payment of this fine to the accused as an alternative to further prosecution; this has nothing to do with whether the accused pleaded guilty in the first place or not.

In the case of a custodial sentence being handed down by the judge, this will be imposed under the 1978 Theft Act, the 2006 Fraud Act or the 1992 Social Security Administration Act. A prison sentence is normally handed down only when the fraud was operated over a fairly long period of time, the amount was substantial or the fraudster was in a particularly trusted position. The particulars of the individual case will decide the term of the prison sentence. Benefit fraud is viewed very seriously both by the state and by the citizenry, who in one way or another pick up the bill, and this is reflected in the large amount of funding and resources allocated to rooting out so-called ‘benefit cheats’ and bringing them to account. Benefit fraud is certainly not seen as a victimless crime, as we all pay for it, and the popular loathing of the activity bears out this viewpoint, especially in the tabloid press which frequently pillories, names, and shames those involved.

Anyone contemplating benefit fraud should think again, because the authorities can and will follow the paper or electronic trail until the perpetrator is brought to account and either fined or imprisoned. Solicitors such as Duncan Lewis are actively involved in benefit fraud cases.