Menston and Burley-in-Wharfedale MP Philip Davies has called on the Government to “get a grip” on the benefits system, as just three in every 100 benefits cheats is sent to prison.

Most escape with a fine or community service and one in five walk away with a conditional discharge, no more than a slap on the wrist, according to official figures given to Philip Davies.

The Shipley constituency MP said Government needed to get a grip on the benefit system and judges must use powers to send the message benefit cheats will be punished.

He said: “This 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 just 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 sentence – all but walking free from their crime.

Justice Minister, Jeremy Wright, said: “The Government has also introduced a tougher loss of benefit penalty to restrict benefits to people convicted of benefit fraud or who have accepted an administrative penalty. Benefits can be reduced for periods of 13 weeks, 26 weeks or three years, dependent on the number of benefit fraud offences committed within a specified period, where the latest offence results in a conviction.

“Judges make their decisions independently of Government based on the facts of each case. The maximum penalty for fraud is ten years in prison.”