16 September 2013

lizziec: (Horrible Histories Stupid Deaths (finger)
A few things on today's news that the DPP is planning on using fraud law against "benefit cheats".

  1. Interesting timing given that legal aid is being dramatically scaled back. Does this mean that people falsely charged will find it harder to gain adequate representation?

  2. Anyone who is convicted will find it harder to get a job in future, thus potentially keeping them on benefits for much longer.

  3. According to the DWP themselves, in 2011/2012 overpayments due to fraud accounted for 0.7% of all claims. In the same financial year, DWP error accounted for 0.5% of of claims, and claimant error for 0.8%. This means that it's much more likely that any overpayment is due to error than genuine fraud. Has the DPP explained what safeguards will be in place to ensure that people who are being overpaid due to error (their own or that of DWP) are not facing 10 year sentences for "fraud"?

  4. What safeguards will be in place to ensure that disabled people, who face significant barriers in communication with the DWP/HMRC, will not be unfairly penalised by this change in policy from the DPP? This is a serious problem already for those who are most likely to need to claim benefits, and being prosecuted with a potential 10 year sentence is likely to cause those who can least cope significant distress.

  5. The cost of keeping someone in prison is £65,000 for the first year, and £40,000 for every year after that. It's possible that it could cost the taxpayer more to keep someone in prison after this change than finding another way to punish genuine cheats.
    • Prison isn't supposed to be about punishment anyway. The Ministry of Justice state that "Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release." (Emphasis mine)

  6. I've been reminded by @bencc about the UK Parliament expenses scandal where expenses were abused (and many would say were claimed fraudulently in many cases). Only a few were ever prosecuted and those that were, were charged with "False Accounting", not fraud. Similarly, charges resulting from the financial collapse of 2007/8 have been nearly non-existant. The decision by the DPP today shows that there is one rule for those in power and with money, and another for those who are below the breadline.

I suspect that very few (if any) of these points have been considered by either the government, or the DPP. What seems clear from both the policy and its timing is that this is a purely political decision, made to continue the demonisation of those who are in receipt of benefits.

ETA: This tweet shows another side of this decision (Universal Credit), which I had not considered.

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