Only three in every 100 benefit cheats convicted of stealing money from the taxpayer is sent to prison, MP Philip Davies has revealed.
Mr Davies discovered that the huge majority escape with a fine or community service and one in five walk away with a conditional discharge, according to official figures for England and Wales he has obtained .
And the Shipley Conservative MP said Government urgently needed to get a grip on the benefit system and judges must use their powers to show that swindlers will be duly punished.
He said: “Theft from the taxpayer is a serious offence and brings the benefits system into disrepute. It should be treated as seriously by the courts as it is by the public.”
Latest figures for 2012 show of the 7,101 cheats found guilty only 250 were sent to prison with the average sentence six months.
In addition 1,351 cheats were fined, 2,947 given community service and 1,447 given a condition discharge meaning they were let off as long as they abided by certain rules.
More than 1,000 were also given suspended sentences – all but walking free from their crime.
Last week Channel 5’s TV programme “Gypsies on Benefits and Proud” saw a 36-year-old father-of-three admitting he wanted to claim £40,000 in one year to build a house back in Romania.
Mr Davies said: “We are giving out the impression that it is easy to cheat the system in Britain.”
In response Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: “The Government has introduced a tougher loss of benefit penalty to restrict benefits to people convicted of benefit fraud or who have accepted an administrative penalty.
“Judges make their decisions independently of Government based on the facts of each case. The maximum penalty for fraud is ten years in prison.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions added: "Our fraud investigation teams work tirelessly to catch benefit cheats, and compile full information and evidence of the acts of these criminals so they can be prosecuted in court. We play no part in their sentencing – that's down to the judge."
e-mail: chris.tate