It was reported that Caroline Banana was sentenced on 29th April 2013 for offences of benefit fraud to a 12 month Community Order. It was reported that, whilst claiming Housing & Council Tax Benefit and Income Support on the basis that she was unemployed, Ms Banana found a job around 28th March 2011.
More significantly (and the reason it was reported in the press) she went on the Channel 4 programme ‘Deal or No Deal’ and won £95,000. Both the winnings and the job were matters that she was required to inform the Department of Work and Pensions and the local Council (who administer the two benefits).
By virtue of s111A Social Security Administration Act 1992 it is an offence to fail to promptly notify the relevant body of a ‘material’ change of circumstances (material being one that would make a difference to somebody’s benefits). An overview of benefit fraud can be found here.
There are guidelines issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council covering benefit fraud (pages 25-27). The total amount that Ms Banana claimed unlawfully was around £6,100. It appears to have been a genuine claim originally (so not fraudulent from the outset) and would probably be counted as having been carried out over a period of time (not withstanding the fact that many benefit frauds are over a much longer time period).
On that basis, this offence falls into the 4th column and 3rd row of the relevant table. This is in the bracket of £5,000 – 20,000. The starting point (based on if the value of the fraud was £12,500) is 6 weeks in prison with a sentencing range (that would be calculated in light of all the circumstances and the mitigation that she put forward) of a Medium Community Order up to 26 weeks in prison.
Given the value, it would seem that the starting point would be right at the bottom of that range, which would tie in with the actual sentence passed by the Judge. It seems that Ms Banana pleaded guilty shortly before the trial date, so received a lot less credit for the plea than she would have done had she pleaded guilty earlier.
We don’t have the sentencing remarks, but I imagine that the District Judge would have taken a starting point of requiring Ms Banana to do about 250 hours unpaid work, and reduced it by about 15% to take account of a late guilty plea.
In addition to the unpaid work in the community, Ms Banana has to repay all the benefits that she received as well as paying an extra £350 costs. So, as well as being punished, she won’t have benefited financially from the fraud.