Benefit cheat changes "must not punish the innocent"
8:00am Thursday 19th September 2013 in Bolton
PLANS to jail benefit cheats for up to 10 years could put vulnerable people off claiming what they are owed, warn Bolton’s political leaders.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), has warned that people defrauding the system could face a new "tough stance".
But Bolton’s politicians and Citizens Advice Bureau say the proposals will target the poor, while allowing bankers to get off the hook.
Bolton North East MP, David Crausby, said: "I really do think that benefit cheats should be dealt with because they are taking money from the tapxpayer.
“But on the other hand, it is a question of priorities and this is another example of the government picking on the most vulnerable, instead of those who landed us in this economic mess in the first place.
"It was those at the top end of society that have left us in this position and those at the bottom who are paying the price."
Bolton South East MP Yasmin Quereshi added: "Obviously, if anyone commits a crime by taking money from the system they should be prosecuted, but what we should also be doing is prosecuting all those companies to fail to pay any tax at all. Of course there are then the bankers who should also be pursued with the same vigour for playing fast an loose with our money.
"My message would be instead of picking on the people claiming benefit pick on the real criminals and the real culprits for our financial problems."
Richard Wilkinson from Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau said he did not want to see “people who have made a claim in all innocence being punished as well”.
He added: "The danger with all of these new benefit changes it that they are more complex and might put off genuine people from claiming.”
Announcing the new guidelines for the CPS, Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said suspects would now be charged under the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In the past, benefit cheats were pursued under specific social security legislation, which carries a maximum term of seven years.
A financial threshold which prevented benefit fraud cases of less than £20,000 from being sent to crown court will also be abolished.
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