Benefit cheats undermine the system and their actions result in misuse of public money. It is not a victimless crime, as some people may claim, because everyone loses.
Welfare reform in the UK is hitting the most vulnerable in our society. The coalition government have committed to a period of austerity and Work and Pensions Ministeris rolling out a series of reforms. People with disabilities, the elderly and the unemployed face tightening their belts as less money is available for the welfare budget.
Allegations of benefit fraud highlight the amount of money which could be available for genuine claimants.
There are many reports online of UK benefit fraud and the latest is from Kingston-upon-Hull in Yorkshire, this writer's hometown. It involves tenants living on a "council estate", that is living in social housing, and a benefits scam. A major investigation resulted in the first court cases this week.
Police charged 28 people with offences, some dating back to 2011. The charges include "fraud by false representation and supplying articles intending them to be used in fraud and money laundering", reports the Hull Daily Mail.
The fraud involved benefit cheques, perhaps for as little value as a few pounds. For a fee an unnamed man, on the Preston Road Estate in East Hull, would alter cheques. A cheque for £10 could be amended to £390 for a £50 fee.
This "service" became common knowledge on the estate. One person arrested during the major fraud investigation told police: "Everyone on the estate is doing it."
In court this week 21 people admitted defrauding the Department for Work and Pensions out of thousands of pounds. Reasons given for the fraud included,
Although some of the charges involved relatively small sums of money one woman paid to have 14 cheques altered and made a profit of £5,000.
Sentences handed out included community-orders, unpaid work and court costs. The Work and Pensions department will recoup the money fraudulently received by reducing each defendant's benefits.
Other defendants will appear in court in due course.
Whilst some of the fraudsters may have been desperate others may have been just plain greedy. Benefit fraud cases create, in some people, a desire to abolish the welfare state. That must not happen. There are times when many of us need a financial safety net.
The best course of action is to tighten loopholes and investigate fraud properly. Appropriate sentences following convictions are also needed to deter fraudsters.
This fraud investigation was lengthy and no doubt costly but it showed widespread fraud, albeit in one area. The people involved in this case did not act as part of a conspiracy. The "cheque changing man's" reputation spread by word of mouth. Individuals then sought him out.
Was this an isolated case or is it happening in other areas of the UK?
Note: No details of the unnamed, cheque changing man are available at this time.