Northern Ireland news

Prosecutions for benefit fraud halve in six years

The number of prosecutions for benefit fraud has halved in six years.
John Monaghan

THE number of people prosecuted for benefit fraud in the north has halved in six years.

A total of 233 people were brought to court in the 10 months from April 2015 to the end of January, less than half the total during 2010-11, when 549 people were prosecuted.

Prosecutions peaked at 570 in 2012-13, before a noticeable drop to 459 and 302 in the two subsequent years.

The figures were released in response to an assembly question by DUP East Derry MLA Gregory Campbell.

Social development minister Maurice Morrow said his department had also applied 3,252 "administrative penalties for fraudulent behaviour" in the same period.

In response to a separate question by DUP North Down MLA Alex Easton, the minister said benefit fraud, including housing benefit cheats, had cost the government an estimated £99 million between 2012 and 2014.

A spokeswoman for the Social Security Agency said the drop in the number of prosecutions was not due to budget cuts.

"Whilst the number of prosecutions through the courts for benefit fraud has fallen in recent years, it is important to note that prosecutions are only one form of outcome for frauds detected and investigated by the Social Security Agency.

"Lower value fraud cases are often dealt with by of an administrative penalty imposed by the agency, as an alternative to prosecution."

The agency has also said the number of fraud cases detected has dropped due to "the phasing out of cheque payments to customers".

There were 751 fraud cases detected in 2014-15, compared to 1,138 the previous year.

The spokeswoman said: "Over the past five years, the total number of fraud cases detected, with either penalties imposed by the agency or by the courts, has remained largely similar, but with a noticeable difference in 2014/15.

"This was not due to budget cuts, rather was a consequence of the phasing out of cheque payments to customers. This removed the opportunity for commonly detected duplicate encashment of giro cheque frauds."

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