New guidance suggests that benefit cheats should be treated with much more severity.
People committing benefit fraud could face jail terms of up to 10 years after new guidance was issued from the director of prosecutions.
The move comes after benefit cheats cost the UK economy £1.9 billion last year.
Keir Starmer QC urged prosecutors to consider charging individuals under the Fraud Act rather than the previous approach of charging them under social security laws. This would allow scope for longer sentences to be handed out.
Mr Starmer says that lawmakers should take into account the effect on members of the public when prosecuting those who break the rules. He said:
“It’s a myth that getting one over on the system is a victimless crime. The truth is that we all end up paying the price. It is vital that we take a tough stance on this type of fraud and I am determined to see a clampdown on those who flout the system.”
The move has been met with some controversy after it was revealed that the changes would mean that welfare cheats could now be punished as severely as individuals convicted for money laundering and banking fraud.
Richard Murphy, founder of the Tax Justice Network said: “Don’t get me wrong, I have a dislike of all fraud but in my opinion, tax fraud is a much bigger issue than benefit fraud. “
He continued: “Tax fraud is now subject to maybe 400 prosecutions per year. The penalties are small and yet a ten-year sentence is being threatened for benefit fraud. The publicity, sentences and the messaging is all disproportionate and the allocation of resources is all wrong.”
Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service saw more than 8,600 prosecutions in benefit and tax credit cases. The current conviction rate stand at 89.7 per cent.
Independent columnist and author of Chavs, Owen Jones appeared on BBC News to condemn the move: