Uncivil Penalties

By DeusExMacintosh

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to face fines of at least £50 for “preventable” errors in their benefits claims. The government expects to levy more than £60m in these civil penalties in the next four years, it revealed in its welfare reform proposals.

Errors could include failure to inform the authorities of a change of address or a partner moving into their home. A union called the plans “shameful” and “unnecessarily punitive”.

Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to introduce a civil penalty around the time of last October’s Spending Review. But finer details of the plans – including the amount the government expects to levy in fines – was detailed in its welfare reform proposals.

With an estimated £5bn lost a year to fraud and error in the welfare system, the government wants to put more emphasis on people taking “personal responsibility” for their claims. So, from 2012, it plans to deduct at least £50 from benefits if errors were made that “could have reasonably been prevented”.

“[The] £50 rate was determined as an appropriate starting point for the majority of benefit customers to encourage better care of their claim, with the option of increasing the civil penalty to up to £300,” the proposals found.

These fines, which will be paid in addition to refunding any overpayments, will total £9m in 2012-13, the government predicts.

This will increase to £30.5m in 2014-15, which is the equivalent of fines at £50 for 610,000 people. The proposals also reveal that the government assumes there will be very few appeals against these fines.

BBC News

And given that the rate of errors made by DWP staff is inevitably higher than that made by claimants, I look forward to being able to dock £50 from their pay for any screw ups. Why do I suspect that the error rate will be subsumed into that of fraud from herein?


  1. Patrick
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 4:06 am | Permalink

    As an example, the tax laws are far more draconian, and a fortiori for tax office stuff-ups.

    Securities law is not far off.

    What else did you expect? In their minds you exist to serve them and not the contrary.

  2. pete m
    Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    People who rort disability payments deserve significant repercussions.

    I like the productivity report here is oz – pay for it from consolidated revenue – don’t set up a levy which can get magled / political.

    As usual, labor have sent it off to a committee/consultation merrygoround – law by 2029.

  3. Posted March 1, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    pete m,

    People who rort disability payments deserve significant repercussions.

    Judging solely from the impression given by the article, I get the impression that intent is not taken into account when determining the punitive measures. I’m not sure you can call an honest mistake a ‘rort’.

  4. Posted March 2, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

    It’s the same as parking fines and speeding tickets – it reverses the onus. As Patrick points out, the same thing is done to people who bugger up their tax returns as well. Anything that reverses the onus like that sets my rule of law antennae off; I’d really like to see it dispensed with. ‘Civil penalty’, my foot.

  5. Patrick
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Then SL, clubtroppo reader that you are, you will be waiting agog for the High Court’s thoughts on

    Momcilovic v R

    , as well as KP’s.

  6. Patrick
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Oops, I blockquoted instead of linked: http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/other/HCAASP/2011/4.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=VSCA%202010%2050%20or%202010%20VSCA%2050

  7. Posted March 2, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Hmm. Proportional penalties for MPs and Captains of Finance who make errors – or do the privileged get a bulk discount? How do these penalties as a proportion of the money involved compare to cases where there is intent, not error? How many settlements with the big end of town are confidential, rather than involving name-and-shame?

    For civil penalties, deterrent value and punishment to an individual are proportional to revenue, so I’d make fines for parking or speeding a proportion of the value of the car, fines for rorts fudged by annual revenue and the amount rorted.

  8. Posted March 2, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Your income-based proposal has failed wherever it’s been tried, because it can be gamed. People on the aggregate are smarter than government planners. The fix–if you don’t want cars in the centre of your cities, for example–is a congestion charge or simple ban, not something designed to help the poor and the weak that can be gamed up the wazoo.

    When it comes to civil penalties, arguments about economic rights are meaningless. This is a straight violation of a very simple liberty right to which the only reasonable response is to lop off government’s hands so it has less power. Civil penalties (and their near relatives, the anti-terror laws, many of which similarly reverse the onus) are an assault on the rule of law (particularly the presumption of innocence and the presumption against retrospective law) that should simply be abrogated. If that means a few more boy racers around the place, then so be it.

  9. pete m
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    desipias – I clearly said “rort”. To spell it out, those who take govt disability benefits without legal entitlement in the ordinary sense (not some BS admin disqualification), rort the system and make it more expensive etc.

    The genuine disabled is thus doubly punished because the govt is so sensitive to claims fraud that they seek to use these BS schemes to chuck even them off.

    How you treat your weakest and all that.

  10. Mel
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink


    “… so I’d make fines for parking or speeding a proportion of the value of the car …”

    Oh don’t be ridiculous. The administrative overheads for such a system would be enormous.

    The obvious inequity of fixed rate charges and fines should simply be viewed as another justification for progressive taxation.

  11. Mel
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Could my last comment be fished out of mod, thanks.

  12. Posted March 2, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I hope your comment has come through, Mel — I just went looking for it and can only hope that someone else has let it in.

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