LONDON (AFP) – People who cheat the benefits system in England and Wales will face increased prison sentences of up to 10 years under new guidelines published Monday by Britain's director of public prosecutions.
Keir Starmer QC is urging a "tough stance" against benefit and tax credit fraudsters who he said cost Britain around 1.9 billion pounds a year in new guidance for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Suspects could now face being charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, rather than the social security legislation used in the past which carries a maximum seven-year sentence.
"It is a myth that 'getting one over on the system' is a victimless crime: the truth is we all pay the price," Starmer said.
"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 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."
Under the new guidelines, prosecutors will be told to seek tough penalties in cases with aggravating features such as multiple offences, abuse of position or substantial loss to public funds.
Last year, the CPS dealt with more than 8,600 prosecutions in benefit and tax credit cases and has completed over 4,000 in the first five months of this year.
The current conviction rate is nearly 90 percent.