Concerns raised about harsh punishments for benefits claimants

Benefits court web

The new social security bill could see those who give wrong circumstances by mistake jailed for five years

8th September 2017 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Fears have been raised about benefits claimants facing up to five years in prison if they provide false details.

Under the new draft social security legislation, prosecutions will be launched if it is deemed that people "ought to have known" that a change in circumstances had affected their claim.

Currently, claimants will not face prosecution if it cannot be proved if they were actively deceiving the benefits office.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “The section in the new social security bill on investigations and offences is unduly punitive. The reasons people may mislead ministers about their circumstances are complex and we should focus instead on addressing these reasons rather than imprisoning people.”

Emma Trottier, policy manager for Engender, said there was a particular danger women would fall foul of the new laws.

She said: “It’s disappointing to see such an emphasis on offences in the bill, particularly when such a tiny fraction of social security spending is linked to fraud.”

Justice Scotland has said the bill should be amended to replicate the UK system, in order to preventer harsher punishments being dished out in Scotland.

In a briefing paper for the Social Security Committee, Justice Scotland recommends that the words "ought to" should be introduced into the bill in order to prevent conviction of those who have displayed careless or negligent behaviour, rather than criminal intent.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “This government will not criminalise genuine errors made by social security applicants.

“In all cases, we will take individual circumstances into account, including when we are deciding whether or not to recover any overpayments that arise. This is in line with our determination that people are treated with dignity and respect – something that is sorely missing in the current, discredited DWP system.

“We will be considering further the points made by Justice Scotland.”