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People who make innocent mistakes must be protected from tough benefit fraud penalties

16 Medi 2013

It is right that those who commit benefit fraud face tough penalties, but those who make innocent mistakes while trying to navigate the complex benefits system must not face the same punishment, Citizens Advice has said.

Responding to new charging standards for benefit and tax credit fraud set out by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer today, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said:

"It's absolutely right that people stealing from the public purse face tough consequences. A prison sentence is an expensive punishment and it's clear that this is intended to be a deterrent first and foremost.

"Almost as much money is lost to error as is lost to fraud. It's crucial that people who suffer wrong payments due to innocent mistakes or confusion do not suffer unfairly as a result of these new penalties. The current benefits system is fiendishly complicated and many people face upheaval to their support due to reforms.

"Prosecutors must make sure that only fraudsters are punished and hard-up people who have made an innocent mistake are protected."

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit You can also get advice online at
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.