Defendants convicted of benefit fraud could now face a prison term of up to 10 years, following new guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Keir Starmer QC said it was time for a ‘tough stance’ given the £1.9bn annual cost of the crime to the nation.
The changes mean benefit fraud will now be classed alongside offences such as money laundering and banking fraud.
In the past, those facing benefit fraud proceedings were commonly charged under social security legislation carrying a maximum sentence of seven years. Further, benefit frauds of less than £20,000 were automatically tried in magistrates' courts, which could only sentence people to up to 12 months imprisonment for multiple offences. For a single offence, the maximum term of imprisonment was six months.
This financial threshold has been scrapped under the new guidelines, so smaller cases can be referred straight to crown courts for tougher sentencing.
Suspects can also now be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The DPP said prosecutors should consider a number of factors when deciding how to charge, including:
- Whether the fraud was professionally planned
- Whether multiple frauds occurred or a single fraud was carried out over a significant period of time
- Whether a false or stolen identity was used
- Whether the perpetrator abused a position of trust in order to commit the offence
The move comes after the Crown Prosecution Service merged with the Department for Work and Pensions' prosecutions division last year.
By Priscilla Addo-Quaye, solicitor in the fraud and regulatory department
If you are facing benefit fraud proceedings it is vital that you seek specialist advice. Our team at Stephensons has expertise in all areas of fraud and financial asset recovery.