Benefit Fraud

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1996.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North 12:00 am, 18th March 1996

To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on his Department's role in prosecuting benefit fraud cases. [19406]

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

The vast majority of benefit fraud cases are investigated by the Benefits Agency and prosecuted by the Department answerable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, or are investigated and prosecuted by a local authority. Some of the more serious cases are, however, investigated by the police and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

Is it of concern to my hon. and learned Friend, as it is to the Social Security Committee, to learn that, despite widespread fraud in the benefits system, so few people are prosecuted? Will he undertake to discuss with the Social Security Secretary and relevant Departments how the number of successful prosecutions can be increased, so that people get the message that cheating the system means ending up in gaol or being heavily fined?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, but he ought to remember that the gravity of some of these cases is much more important that their total number. The cases that the Crown Prosecution Service deals with, although few in number, are very important and have a deterrent effect that outweighs their number. These are usually offences of theft or conspiracy to defraud, and the courts, without exception, impose significant sentences of imprisonment. That sends out a clear, unambiguous message to anyone minded to cheat the system.