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English law does not provide a specific offence for ‘benefit fraud’. Instead, people are charged with a type of general fraud. General fraud can take many forms, and as such it is useful to compare several instances of benefits-related general fraud to understand how different cases might be treated. In the remainder of this article, we explain how general fraud offences are defined and what the punishments could be, and we outline multiple cases for you to compare and contrast to understand different cases are treated.
The UK government defines benefit fraud as the act of obtaining state benefit to which a person is not entitled, or deliberately failing to report a change in personal circumstances (one that affects benefits entitlement). Under English law, there is no specific offence of ‘benefit fraud’ per se. Rather, the act that represents benefit fraud fits – for the most part – under the umbrella of general fraud offences, which are governed by the Fraud Act 2006.
The Fraud Act 2006 recognises three types of general fraud:
Benefits-related fraud can involve any one of these types of general fraud, and it is important to note that a person may be charged and prosecuted with one of these types of fraud even if there was no actual loss suffered by the benefits provider. In England, the main benefits providers are local authorities, with certain benefits and oversight provided as necessary by:
In cases where there is no actual loss suffered by these agencies – who, despite being large government agencies, are still seen as the victims of the crime – the prosecution will seek prove that causing a loss to another was the intention of the defendant. If this is proven successfully, there is a still the possibility of conviction.
Where tax credits in particular are the subject of the fraud, the offence may fall under section 35 of the Tax Credits Act 2002, which created a specific crime for tax credit fraud. Additionally, where a person commits benefit fraud by falsifying accounts, a specific offence was created by section 17 of the Theft Act 1968.
Typically, benefit fraud looks like:
A benefit fraud offence may also be committed where someone works with other people to defraud a benefits provider but does not necessarily defraud the provider directly themselves. This is the common law offence (meaning the offence was created by the courts rather than a particular Act of Parliament) known as ‘conspiracy to defraud’.
As mentioned earlier, benefit fraud is most often treated as one of the three types of general fraud, and as such most sentences are prescribed by the Fraud Act 2006. That Act states that the maximum sentence is 12 months’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine in the magistrate’s court, and 10 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine in the Crown Court.
For tax credit fraud and false accounting offences, the maximum sentence is 7 years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Finally, for those that did not directly defraud a benefits provider but nonetheless were involved (conspiracy to defraud cases), the maximum sentence is 10 years’ imprisonment.
Longer sentences, naturally, are given for more serious offences. The Sentencing Council uses the following factors to decide which defendants are more culpable than others, and thus which defendants to punish more harshly. To be found more culpable, a defendant will have:
As with all crimes, it is the judge that will ultimately decide how serious a given offence is based on the arguments made by the prosecution and defence in court, and the available evidence. In practice, the range of punishments varies considerably between cases.
When going through the cases on the following table, remember that not every case is treated alike and that, if you have been charged, your sentence may end up being different to those stated here. To get a clear understanding of what punishment you might face if found guilty, contact a qualified and experienced benefit fraud solicitor and ask for their professional opinion.
|Fraudulent Act||Judgment Date||Financial Loss||Sentence||Link to Transcript|
|Faking a disability||15/12/2016||£15,000||6 months’ imprisonment|
|Failure to report living with partner||15/02/2015||£60,000||4 months’ imprisonment||View Case|
|Failure to report new employment||10/02/2016||£3,490||3 months’ community order||View Case
|Failure to declare inheritance||30/01/2015||£33,500||12 months’ imprisonment||View Case
|Failure to declare new household income||15/09/2016||£40,000||12 months’ imprisonment||View Case
|Conspiracy to defraud||10/10/2012||£68,095||20 months’ imprisonment||View Case
|Failing to declare residence at two addresses||08/10/2015||£16,649||12 months’ curfew; £1000 fine||View Case
|Multiple failures to disclose new circumstances||06/08/2010||£33,952||14 months’ imprisonment||View Case
|Falsifying accounts to get numerous benefits||28/05/2011||£46,000||32 months’ imprisonment||View Case
|Conspiracy to commit tax credit fraud||04/04/2012||£12,023||7 months’ imprisonment, suspended.||View Case
|Failure to declare student finance||17/06/2011||£6,216||Acquitted||View Case|
Yes. It stands to reason that if you commit benefit fraud, the government may act to reduce or stop altogether your benefits. The government has a list of ‘sanctionable benefits’, which are those that can be subject to restriction in the event of someone being found guilty of benefit fraud. According to the Gov.uk website, sanctionable benefits are:
A number of benefits will not be reduced or stopped altogether, however, even if you are found guilty of benefit fraud (although please note that your entitlement for them may change if you lied about that in the first place). These include:
Finally, there are special circumstances for recipients of certain benefit payments. If you receive one of the following types of benefit, none of your payments (from either of the above two lists) can be stopped, even if you are found guilty of benefit fraud:
To get more information about how benefit fraud is treated under English criminal law, and to obtain specific advice about any case against you or someone you care about, contact the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our friendly non-judgemental team will help you understand what might happen in your case and can work with you to mount a strong defence if your case goes to trial. To arrange a consultation, please get in touch with us today.
(This page was last updated on November 23, 2023.)
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