Belfast Telegraph

Only 23 people are given a jail term in last six years

Adrian Rutherford

Just 23 people have been jailed for benefit fraud here in the last six years.

Less than 0.3% of all cases investigated by officials in that period resulted in a custodial term, figures show. A further 589 incidents led to a suspended prison sentence.

Other punishments for benefit fraudsters typically include community service orders, fines and probation.

The Belfast Telegraph obtained details of the five biggest fraud cases investigated in each of the last six years - a total of 30 cases.

Just one resulted in a prison term - a £76,817 fraud where the offender did not declare they were living with someone else. On 19 occasions there was no prosecution, nine others resulted in a suspended prison sentence, while the other was given a community order.

Among the cases that avoided prison was a person who claimed £165,151 for a 'living together' fraud. They received a suspended sentence.

In the last 12 months two other frauds received a similar sentence - the frauds totalled £146,526 and £145,984 respectively.

A spokesman for the Lord Chief Justice's Office said: "It is not appropriate to compare the sentences imposed in different cases as the circumstances in each may vary considerably.

"Sentencing is a matter for each individual judge after consideration of the specific circumstances of each case."

The spokesman said that, in calculating the appropriate sentence for the offence, the judge will have considered a range of factors specific to that case.

These include:

  • The seriousness of the offence.
  • The offender's previous convictions.
  • Whether the offender pleaded guilty and at what stage in the process - a guilty plea at an early stage will gain a greater discount.
  • The relevant law, including the maximum sentence which the court can impose.
  • Aggravating and mitigating factors.
  • And any sentencing guidelines relevant to the offence committed.

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