Westminster: Response to fraud epidemic inadequate
Prioritising traditional forms of crime has left the justice system ill-equipped to deal with continuing rise in fraud, Westminster’s justice committee has found.
In a report into fraud and the justice system, the committee calls on the UK government to revolutionise the way in which fraud is fought, ensuring it is given greater priority and resourcing across the justice sector to boost prevention, investigation and prosecution alongside improving the treatment for victims of this crime.
The committee finds that the level of focus from policing is inadequate to deal with the scale, complexity and evolving nature of fraud. Only two per cent of police funding is dedicated to combating fraud despite it accounting for 40 per cent of reported crime. Lines of accountability are confused with responsibility split between local and national forces.
The report calls for a victim-focussed approach that ensures that people know where to report cases of fraud, and are kept up-to-date and supported as criminal investigations progress. Officers should receive sufficient training to ensure they can identify and respond to fraud, particularly fraud within the online sphere. The lack of focus on fraud is further illustrated by the failure to record data on this form of crime at a local or regional level.
The committee calls for data on fraud crime to be collected and published in sufficient detail to allow for law enforcement bodies to be held accountable for their performance in relation to fraud crimes.
In addition to a lack of investigation of fraud crimes, there is also a lack of prosecution. The ONS estimates that there are an estimated 4.6 million fraud offences each year, but in the year ending September 2021 just 7,609 defendants were prosecuted for fraud and forgery as the principal offence by the CPS. Our inquiry heard of significant delays in hearing fraud cases, problems with the application of disclosure rules in cases with large amounts of digital material and the importance of early engagement between all bodies involved in order to conclude cases in a timely manner.
The committee recommends that sentencing guidelines should take into account not just the level of financial loss resulting from a crime but also the emotional and psychological harms these crimes can cause.
Chair of the justice committee, Sir Bob Neill MP said: “A week ago, it was announced that it is a now a key priority for police to attend every burglary reported to them. It is right that victims of such invasive and traumatic crime should know that they will be supported, but we should not underestimate the impact that offences of fraud also have upon victims.
“Fraud currently accounts for 40 per cent of crime and the figure is growing. People are losing their life savings and suffering lasting emotional and psychological harm. But the level of concern from law enforcement falls short of what is required.
“The decision has already been made to replace Action Fraud, and the government will need to make sure its successor can meet the demands placed on it, but wider criminal justice system must also renew its focus on this crime. Fraud prevention, investigation and prosecution too often has seemed like an afterthought, last in the queue for resources, monitoring and even court time.
“We need the criminal justice system to have the resources and focus to be able to adapt to new technologies and emerging trends. The current sense of inertia cannot continue, we need meaningful action now.”