The Telegraph and Daily Mail both report today on the number of benefit fraud cases that fail to result in prosecutions, following a parliamentary question from the Conservative MP Richard Fuller.
The stories include some important context for the figures and anyone looking to report on them, including new guidelines, which according to The Telegraph:
“[Mean] suspects can be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and the abolition of the financial threshold which prevented benefit fraud cases of less than £20,000 from being sent to crown court.”
The data behind the stories does not cover sentencing under the new guidelines – but future years will.
Also buried in the Daily Mail article is an important point about changing context from the Department for Work and Pensions
“New penalties mean fraudsters can be fined up to £2,000 without being taken to court.
“Officials can also impose a £50 civil penalty where a claimant gives false information about their circumstances which results in an overpayment.”
In other words, some punishments issued for benefit fraud will now not appear in official statistics – or at least only as ‘case closed’. The parliamentary answer does not include how many fines were issued, or at what values – only the cases ‘closed with recoverable overpayments’.
The article also points out that not all of the £1.2bn lost to benefit fraud came from the DWP – £800m of the fraud related to DWP payments with the remaining £400m administered by local authorities (such as housing benefit).
For context, have a look at the Fraud Offences Sentencing Data from the Ministry of Justice (PDF) – this includes the wider context of fraud sentencing, lacking from both articles on the DWP data. Let us know if you find anything here which sheds further light on how benefit fraud is treated in comparison with other forms.
You can also find quarterly sentencing data from the Ministry of Justice here, and data on fraud and error in the benefit system from the DWP here, with a separate collection of data on housing benefit recovery and fraud.
We’ve republished the figures from the parliamentary question below in tables that can be copied and pasted into spreadsheet software or visualisation tools:
Criminal convictions for benefit fraud offences
|Fiscal year||Custodial sentence||Non-custodial sentence|
Number of criminal convictions for benefit fraud offences for overpayment amounts within specified data range in England and Wales
Number of prosecutions for benefit fraud offences for overpayment amounts within specified Data Range in Scotland
Fraud Investigation Service
|Cases closed with recoverable overpayments||Cases prosecuted|