Source: Crown Prosecution Service
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, has today published new guidelines for prosecutors dealing with fraud cases involving state benefits and tax credits. The charging standards will ensure a robust prosecutorial position is taken against those who commit fraud against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and will ensure a consistent approach to prosecution across the wide spectrum of criminal fraud ~ CPS.
Today’s guidance follows the merger of the DWP Prosecutions Division with the CPS in April 2012 and the transfer of prosecutorial staff to the CPS Welfare, Rural and Health Division.
Keir Starmer, QC, said: “Fraud against the benefits and tax credit system is estimated to cost the UK £1.9 billion every year. It is a myth that ‘getting one over on the system’ is a victimless crime: the truth is we all pay the price. But it’s not only taxpayers that suffer. Benefits exist to protect and support the most vulnerable people in our society and whenever the system is defrauded, it’s also taking money away from those with a genuine need.”
The CPS charging standard sets out the approach prosecutors should take in deciding the appropriate offences to use, so that the charge fits the crime in line with the prosecution of fraud more generally. It also states that where the alleged offending merits such an approach, and prosecutors anticipate a very substantial prison sentence, they should charge under the Fraud Act which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, rather than using specific social security legislation which carries a maximum sentence of seven years.
Mr Starmer continued: “It is vital that we take a tough stance on this type of fraud and I am determined to see a clampdown on those who flout the system. The guidance for prosecutors is clear that if the evidence demonstrates an element of dishonesty, rather than just knowledge of a fraud, the appropriate charges should be used. This will ensure that following conviction, all options are on the table for magistrates and judges including custodial sentences. Indeed, prosecutors are also instructed not to shy away from using a range a legislation that carries higher sentences where it is merited.
The guidelines set out the factors that prosecutors should take into account when advising the court on allocation – whether to send cases to the Crown Court – and also act as the aggravating factors that prosecutors will draw to the sentencing court’s attention. These include:
- whether the fraud was professionally planned
- whether the fraud was carried out over a significant period of time
- whether multiple frauds occurred (multiple frauds include where one false declaration or a failure to disclose a change of circumstances results in multiple payments)
- use of a false or stolen identity
- relevant previous convictions/cautions/previous out of court disposals for benefit fraud
- an attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence
- abuse of a position of trust
- substantial consequential loss to public funds
Mr Starmer said: “The cost to the nation incurred by benefit fraud should be at the forefront of lawyers’ minds when considering whether a prosecution is in the public interest. The loss of £1.9 billion of public money has a significant impact on communities up and down the country. Where frauds have been professionally planned, carried out over a long period of time and include attempts to conceal or destroy evidence, then we will make this plain when advising the courts on sentencing.
“Last year, the CPS saw over 8,600 prosecutions of this type and in the first five months of this year, we completed 4,086 prosecutions. The CPS currently has 729 cases awaiting a charging decision and 591 cases where charges have been authorised and are awaiting a court date. The current conviction rate remains strong at 89.7%.”
Mr Starmer added: “I am convinced that we are now better placed than ever before to tackle economic crime. The dedicated and specialist staff who joined us from the DWP have significantly bolstered our resources and now work closely alongside other fraud experts in the service. This means greater efficiency and consistency so that fraudsters and the public alike can be in little doubt about the tough stance the CPS will take in the fight on fraud.”
Reproduced under Crown Copyright from the Crown Prosecution Service – The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Welfare News Service.
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