Social Security Experience Panels: fraud and error – report

This report summarises the results from eight focus groups with Experience Panel members, which asked how Social Security Scotland should approach fraud and error.

This document is part of a collection

Prosecuting fraud

Participants were then asked if they thought that clients who committed fraud should be prosecuted.

Most participants agreed that there were times where clients who had committed fraud should be prosecuted. In particular, many felt that fraud by organised criminals should always be prosecuted.

"If it's organised and criminal you shouldn't get dignity and respect. You get sent a formal letter and dealt with appropriately."

However, participants were divided about how the legal system should be used for individual cases. Some said that there should be no exceptions for how fraud is dealt with. These participants felt that fraud was a legal issue rather than a moral issue and that everyone who commits fraud should be prosecuted. They also thought it was wrong for a person who had deliberately misled the system to be let off.

"Everyone who commits fraud should be prosecuted. It shouldn't depend on the type of fraud it is."

"Fraud is fraud. There needs to be prosecutions as a deterrent. It's then up to the legal people to decide."

"Genuine fraud is a law issue, it is not a moral issue."

Deciding whether to prosecute or not

However, others warned against prosecuting all cases of fraud. These participants felt that the decision to prosecute a client for fraud should depend on different things.

Some said that the decision to prosecute should depend on how much money had been fraudulently claimed. Others wondered about whether prosecuting fraud was sometimes not a good use of public money.

"If it is only a small amount of fraud, then I don't think you should prosecute."

"There has to be a balance. If it costs more money to take them to court than what they're paying back then it's not really worth it."

"It's a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It costs a huge amount of money to pay for investigators. But I don't think they should just get away with it either."

Others said it should depend on an individual's record and whether it was a first offence. Several suggested that Social Security Scotland needed to find out more from the client before making a decision on whether to refer a case to the justice system. Several said it was important for Social Security Scotland to have well-trained investigation staff.

"Organised crime, 100%, there should be prosecution. But when it's down to an individual, it depends on what the process has been. Make sure that there is enough well trained staff who can decide if it is worth it."

"It depends whether or not it's a first offence. Maybe you don't prosecute on the first offence."

"Find out more. If it's only slight fraud, then don't prosecute. If there has been an error in judgement, scare them at an interview and hope it doesn't happen again."

However, other participants wondered whether prosecuting clients could often do more harm than good. Several talked about the impact of charged with fraud and how this could impact a client's future.

"You do need to prosecute some people. But you also need to think about whether there is a need to take people to court. Sometimes once people are taken to court, then they can't get another job."

"I have an issue with prosecution. My business is part of PVG scheme, I can't give them a job. One time, a person came clean, but now has a record. How can they earn money to pay the system back? Unless it is a shockingly obvious case then there shouldn't be prosecution."

Several said that they would want certain types of fraud to be properly punished no matter whether it was cost-effective or not. These participants talked about how they would want to target certain types of fraud which contributed to stigma.

"People who lie about a disability should be penalised. They only help stigmatise others who are genuinely entitled to benefits."

Other types of punishment

Some thought that there were cases where the justice system could use other types of punishment instead of prosecution. These included cautions, fines, and community pay-back schemes.

"There are other options before prosecution. Paying a fine, giving a caution. What about community service or voluntary work?"

"I think there should be a choice of community service if it's just minor fraud. If it's organised crime then that should be treated as criminal."

"Community service is probably the most effective option. It means they have to pay back to society, but not jail."

"I would love to see those who get caught do a day or two in the shelters so that they realise this is who the money is for."

"If someone claimed their mum had autism, I would like to think that voluntary work with groups of vulnerable people would help make them aware."

"I know someone who worked in a bank, committed fraud, and then was given a community payback order. This helped them understand the consequences of fraud and have a positive impact on them."



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