Barlow's Beef: If you are going to cheat ... cheat big!


'Crackdown nets benefit cheat whom fraudulently claimed more than £6600,' announces the headline of a recent article referring to a Wilmslow lady prosecuted by Cheshire East. She claimed to be living alone on a low income but was found to have a partner supporting her financially.
Is that 'cheating'? Obviously it is and she now has a criminal record that will blight her life inhibiting her ability to gain employment or credit.

Some time ago a wheelchair bound lady contacted me in real distress. She had failed to declare a change in her circumstances that would reduce her benefits. Cheshire East planned to prosecute and she was distraught.

I don't know the detail but I doubt the amount was sufficient for a world cruise. Nevertheless it was defrauding the taxpayer and the council did their duty.

Everybody happy so far?

Mmm... let us now consider Royal Bank of Scotland Chief Executive Fred Goodwin who, as his bank collapsed (with our savings), walked away with a massive multi-million-pension pot. His only punishment being the forfeit of his undeserved Knighthood.

Barclay's Bank was found to have 'fixed' Libor rates ensuring millions of individuals and businesses paid more for credit. The departure of key executives being the only sanction.

There is no record of any prosecutions following the massive PPI scandal nor does there appear to be any penalty for the derisory UK tax paid by major international corporations. It may be legal but moral it is not.

Meanwhile our MP's were flipping like dolphins and claiming it was 'all within the rules' which, of course, it would be as Westminster determines its own.

So, while I have no argument against the prosecution of cheats and fraudsters I'd like to start at the top and work down rather than the reverse.

I'm guessing taxpayers would benefit more from the prosecution of arrogant, greedy bankers and multi-national corporations than a single mum who has an 'undeclared' partner or a disabled lady receiving more benefits than she should.

Call me cynical but I can't help thinking the decision to prosecute is based more on the financial clout of the 'offender' than the gravity of the 'crime.' It would require a huge stretch of the imagination to believe justice or the taxpayer was better served prosecuting the defenseless for a few grand while turning a blind eye to multi-billion pound manipulation.

Would it not be more honest to admit that justice for the poor is entirely different than justice for the rich and powerful? At least we could skip the hypocrisy.

Do we really want to fund failed banks and forgo enormous tax revenues while persecuting the poorest and weakest members of society for small change?

Let me know your opinion.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of

Barlow's Beef, Vic Barlow


Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Mark Goldsmith
Tuesday 19th May 2015 at 4:21 pm
This is not an "And / Or" situation. Just because one group got away with it doesn't mean it's open season for everyone else.

Otherwise we'll all be digging tunnels under Grove St and into banks until the Hatton Garden robbers are caught. "Well, they got away with £millions, so why can't I take a few grand too?" would be the argument.

No, thankfully, the law doesn't work like that.

The bankers were commercially recklessness but not criminal, thanks to the governments "light touch" of financial markets. Unfortunately, we cant make up laws to retrospectively punish people, no matter how tempting it may be in the case for bankers.

Tax avoidance is not a crime either. Otherwise, Cheshire Police would arrest us all for paying into an ISA. No, if you want companies to pay more tax, then don't offer them ways not pay it and complain when they use them.

Finally, to the best of my knowledge stealing money from the government has always been a crime regardless of the amount you steal or how poor you are. Therefore, I think Cheshire East were correct to prosecute the single lady you mention, but even I can't blame them for not going after Fred Goodwin too.
Andrew Backhouse
Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 3:42 pm
I am really pleased to read Barlow's brief. I do feel that we pile in on the small fry whilst letting the large fry avoid tax/pay a bit to get out of trouble, like Starbucks on tax. What would happen if we did manage to tackle all the tax avoidance schemes? I suspect it could raise far more money than the small welfare benefit person - where the cost of taking someone to court is probably higher than we get back (and why do we never hear that cost?).
Chris Wigley
Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 4:20 pm
Only yesterday Next was given a bill for £22.4 million after it failed in a case to divert income abroad and claim double taxation relief. There is a similar case against P&O with about 20 other cases awaiting the decision with £130 million at stake. 70 'rate boosters' have already conceded and the Treasury has received £500 million from them.

Mark Goldsmith's comment about ISA's just plain stupid. This is not a tax avoidance scheme because the Treasury does not require tax on income from this source.

When I worked in the public sector we were actively encouraged to undertake schemes that minimised VAT (an income that was coming back to the public purse). Many College's and Universities had in place what was then termed 'Halifax' structures with property, development and service companies formed to move costs around and reclaim VAT. Halifax lost their case in the European Court and everyone using a similar structure had to fold them up and pay the VAT. However there was one great winner and that was the firm of tax consultants who initially developed the plan and charged all those who sought to use it. Now those costs were a real drain on the public purse and I think a real abuse of the system.
Vic Barlow
Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 5:18 pm
Sadly justice often follows the line of least resistance. Too often powerful individuals avoid any censure. Manipulating the system to suit their situation.

(See Tony Blair for details)
Vic Barlow
Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 9:13 pm
Tonight's news underlines my point. While the major banks were publicly insisting they were reforming and cleansing their management of such practices key executives were sending private messages proclaiming: 'if you ain't cheating you ain't trying' as they 'fixed' false interest rates and deliberately delayed customer transactions until exchange rates favoured their bank.
Let us see how many of those executives are prosecuted in a court of law.
Mark Goldsmith
Thursday 21st May 2015 at 3:20 pm
@Chris Wigley

You may think my comment about ISA's was stupid, but then again I know the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion.

I'd have thought you would too after working in public sector finance but perhaps not, given the governments record with money.

For the uninitiated, governments actively encourage tax avoidance (eg ISA's), which is why they give us these tax breaks. Tax EVASION is the illegal part of not paying your dues to Mr Osbourne.

Unfortunately, many left-wing journalists and the BBC (okay, same difference) use the wrong term. Tax avoidance is something we all do. However, it's been wrongly stigmatised as a corporate crime when it's nothing of the sort.

Vic - the Barclay's LIBOR proponents must face criminal charges. It's an outrage that they haven't already.
Chris Wigley
Thursday 21st May 2015 at 7:53 pm
@Mark Goldsmith, I indeed know the difference between tax avoidance, often called tax management and tax evasion, and I also know the difference between tax exempt income as in income received on ISA investments and tax avoidance
John Clegg
Wednesday 27th May 2015 at 12:20 pm
Marc Goldsmith's point is probably factually correct but the original story points to the whole incongruity of the situation. How can several hundred people break the financial system and completely get away with it - because their action was probably not illegal?

So we should really frame laws that make this sort of thing illegal - but we know it won't happen. Those in power really work for the few hundred, maybe few thousand at the top who have to make hard choices. Yes, those who make really tough decisions when things go wrong, such as sacking people and keeping wages lower - and then noticing that profits - and / or targets - in their organizations have been met: oh, and look it activates a bonus for the privileged few.

There was time when women weren't allowed to vote, or an unfair poll tax was exacted on the population - and that these were overturned by popular support in favour of a new way of doing things.

Pity that other mass protests - such as those against war in Iraq - were ignored.

Me? I've just come from 6th form debating soc., so I'm some sort of expert..