Thursday, May 13, 2010

Benefit fraud; consistency of sentencing and deterrents

A Feilding District Court judge sentenced a woman who had defrauded Work and Income of $48,000 to one year in prison yesterday with no opportunity for home detention.

Which led me to speculate about the consistency of sentencing for benefit fraud. A recent case was fresh in my mind having received a new comment just a few days ago from someone who claims to know the accused (one of the few advantages of having moderation turned on is seeing incoming comments on old posts.) I have searched for any reports of Georgina Ann Marie Nelson's sentencing which was due in February this year to no avail. If the commenter checks in again perhaps they could update us.

In this case a woman was jailed for one year but allowed to apply for home detention after stealing $85,000.

Here, eight months for $49,000.

Here, 6 months for $40,000, application for HD allowed.

In this one a couple were both sentenced to 8 months for a combined total of $38,000.

That's enough. It's depressing reading and there are no shortages of examples. In the 2005/06 financial year there were 937 prosecutions for benefit fraud, most of people who were working and claiming.

All of the above cases involved claiming not to be in a relationship 'after the nature of a marriage'. And anecdotal evidence would suggest they probably represent just the tip of an iceberg.

The sentencing looks reasonably consistent. It also looks reasonably lenient. Let's face it, if you have been on a benefit and all that happens is you get to stay on a reduced benefit largely confined to home, it's not much of a deterrent.

Should people who defraud Work and Income get longer sentences? Or should they simply be banned from ever collecting welfare again, including Super? The second option may be more effective.


Anonymous said...

Recently I had the interesting experience of dealing with a benefit fraudster.

Our new home needed dog proof fences, because I have no time for wandering dogs and because we foster or rehabilitate other dogs a lot of the time, these fences needed to be substantial.

I asked a few builders to quote for the job, the price ranged from $4900+GST to $8600+GST.

This was more than I really wanted to spend, as luck would have it a client of mine recommended that I give another chap a call, I made the call, the chap came out and we settled on a price of $3300(cash).

His workmanship is great, the job was done in the agreed time and when the final bill came in it was slightly less than he had quoted.

The problem is that only last week I found out that he is on ACC.

What the hell should I do?, the guy is getting on a bit, I suspect he is nearing 60 and unlikely to ever get another job with a building firm given his age and the lack of available jobs.

I detest benefit fraudsters with a passion but then this guy is providing a great service at a fee far cheaper than anybody else.

It would be much easier to report the guy if he was some low life druggie or drunk, I know I should but bringing myself to do so is not easy at all.

Thomas said...

In answer to the Sentencing of Benefit Fraudsters, I have personal experience of this, not because I am a fraudster but because I prosecute them for a living and have done so for 7 years+, prior to that I was a Benefit Fraud Investigator. I think that if you look at the DWP advertising they mention around 56,000 people were caught last year, a fraction were prosecuted. I can say with some certainty that the cases I dealt with were by and large dealt with sentencing wise with some consistancy. However if you look at prosecutions across the country I think you will find that it is inconsistant, although Magistrates have guidelines. Crown Court judges don't appear to take any logical view of sentencing these cases, maybe due to the fact that they see very few. My second comment is to Big Bruv, the person you write about is stealing your taxes, and if you only assume that 56,000 people commit fraud in a year, even if the average theft was £10k then do the math. This money could be put to better use, in paying doctors, nurses, teachers etc. etc. As to his age, the oldest person I have prosecuted was 75 years old, he'd been committing fraud years, as an investigator said to me once 'He was young once and he knows what he's doing'. I suggest that you do the public spirited thing and contact the authorities, you can find details on the DWP or LAIOG website.

BrianAW said...

The basic way to solve this type of problem is first ensure wages are at a level sufficient to actually live on after taxes and other deductions such as student loans are taken from the net wage.

Secondly ensure those claiming a benefit are receiving their entitlement in full from the begining instead of the current practice of not informing the beneficiary what they are legally entitled to receive and ensure this is done from the first eligible date they benificary claims the need.

Third ensure those rates are sufficient to meet the living costs which currently do not.

Fourth procactively work with the beneficiary to ensure they are meeting their living costs.

Fifth have the work aspects of seeking work seperate from winz so that additional contact is made with the client to gain work or skills etc.

Sixth create an income incentive for those starting/looking for work or increasing their skill level without reduction of the benefit.

Seventh allow full benefits to continue for the first 13 weeks of starting work if it is deemed full time/part-time ensuring the net take home pay is not less than the receipt of the benefit.

Eight set up skilled services such as hair dressers that allow free basic hair care, foot care, weight management, food needs, health care, home aid, internet access and phone services.

Toni Sarsfield said...

I find your reply really sad. I am a mother of 3 and i am getting done for benefit fraud. That money i was getting was paying for clothes for my children. Making sure my power didnt get disconnected. Supplying petrol to get my daughter to school. Putting food in their bellies. I have sat here and cried with my 7,4 and 3 year old because we are hungry but the only thing to eat is dinner and it was only midday. Unless you have lived in poverty you will never understand