Plymouth MPs welcome harsher sentencing for benefit cheats
CITY MPs have welcomed the idea of harsher sentences for those found guilty of lying about their state benefit entitlement.
Both Conservative MP Gary Streeter and Labour's Alison Seabeck agreed it was time to send a message to such cheats.
However, Ms Seabeck said it was important that those found guilty were not locked up for longer than rapists or paedophiles. In guidance published on Monday, the chief of prosecutions in England and Wales advocated "a tough stance" to be taken.
Keir Starmer QC wants the Crown Prosecution Service to charge suspects under the Fraud Act. Those found guilty could go to prison for up to 10 years.
Tuesday 9th & Wednesday 10th. Carol (with over 16yrs experience) has 10% off - facials. Pedicures. Manicures. Body wraps. Spray tans. Waxing. Tinting. Perming
Terms: For 2 days only. With therapist Carol. Please quote "2 day special offer".
Contact: 01271 440617
Valid until: Thursday, December 12 2013
He said the cost of the crime to the nation was £1.9bn annually.
Mr Streeter said the CPS had understood "the mood of the country" with the move.
Benefit fraud in the past was commonly charged under social security legislation carrying a maximum sentence of seven years.
Also, public scams of less than £20,000 were automatically tried in Magistrates' courts, which could only sentence people to up to 12 months imprisonment for multiple offences.
Under the new guidelines, this cap has been lifted meaning smaller offences will appear before Crown Court and guilty parties could receive far longer sentences.
A merger last year means the CPS are now responsible for prosecuting on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon, welcomed the recommendations saying it was time for a "more robust approach."
He said: "I absolutely agree with the CPS. They have captured the mood of the country.
"Hard working people are sick and tired of a tiny minority getting benefits when they shouldn't and living off the back of the rest of us.
"A much more robust approach is a good thing."
MP for Plymouth Moor View, Alison Seabeck, said she believed it was time to "send a message" to criminals.
She said: "It is important the courts have all the tools they need to send a strong message to those that are cheating the tax payer.
"What they're doing is taking it from other people that need it in the first place. We have had some very high profile cases where the fraud has been systematic and very well thought through.
"I'm in favour of robust sentencing. But there is a much wider question about sentencing policy.
"I have had several emails from constituents saying they understand the need to penalise people that systematically abuse the system. But what they can't understand is that benefit fraud should be treated more seriously than rape or some other serious cases."
Prime Minister David Cameron has "warmly welcomed" the proposed changes, according to a Downing Street spokesman.
Olivier Colvile, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, was unavailable for comment.