What is Centrelink fraud?
Centrelink fraud involves deliberately misleading Centrelink in order to receive payments that a person isn’t entitled to. Centrelink fraud can occur when a person:
- Intentionally gives false or misleading information to Centrelink,
- Purposefully or knowingly completes a Centrelink form incorrectly, or
- Receives a payment or a rate of payment they know they are not entitled to.
Doing any of the above is a serious criminal offence. A person who is found guilty of fraud can be fined or imprisoned. A person can be charged even if they have paid or are paying the money back.
Examples of Centrelink fraud
- Not declaring income from employment, investments or other sources.
- Exaggerating a medical condition.
- Claiming an allowance as a single person when you are in a de facto relationship.
- Claiming an allowance under more than one name.
- Submitting false or forged documents.
Sometimes payments are received due to accidental oversight or misunderstanding on the part of Centrelink or the recipient. In these cases, where a person is not prosecuted for fraud, the recipient will still have to repay any overpaid entitlements.
Is it likely that I’ll be found out for Centrelink fraud?
Centrelink takes allegations of Centrelink fraud very seriously. Courts also take the offence seriously because it is viewed as stealing from public funds that are meant to help those who are most in need.
Centrelink states that it has a “sophisticated capability to detect and investigate fraud”. Centrelink has the capability to:
- Match data with government departments, financial institutions and other private entities, allowing it to discover undeclared income and pick up on identity fraud.
- Identify people receiving higher payments than they are entitled to using advanced data analysis.
- Use optical surveillance and investigate people using forensic accounting techniques.
- Centrelink also has a fraud ‘tip off’ line. It follows up on all reports of fraud.
If Centrelink believes that you have defrauded them, they will conduct an investigation. They will ordinarily ask you to attend tape-recorded interview. They may also turn up at your home to ask questions.
It is important that you seek legal advice before attending an interview or answering any of Centrelink’s questions. Remember that anything you say to Centrelink can be used as evidence in court.
Before attending an interview with Centrelink, you should also request written documentation of all the payments that have been made to you and how Centrelink has figured out the amount that you have been overpaid.
When Centrelink has finished their investigation, they will refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) who will decide whether to press charges. If you are charged with Centrelink fraud, it is very important that you seek legal advice.
Being taken to court on a criminal charge
Most common criminal charges
There are four charges that the CDPP commonly press against alleged Centrelink fraud offenders:
- Obtaining financial advantage (s135.2(1) of Criminal Code) – Maximum penalty: 12 months imprisonment.
- General dishonesty causing a loss (s135.1(5) of Criminal Code) – Maximum penalty: 5 years imprisonment.
- Obtaining a financial advantage by deception (s134.2(1) of Criminal Code) – Maximum penalty: 10 years imprisonment.
- Obtaining property by deception (s134.1(1) of Criminal Code) – Maximum penalty: 10 years imprisonment.
What does the CDPP (on behalf of Centrelink) have to prove in court?
Because this is a criminal charge, the CDPP will have to prove that you committed the offence beyond reasonable doubt. They will have to show that:
- Your conduct was intentional,
- You acted dishonestly,
- You obtained a benefit or rate of payment from Centrelink due to your dishonest conduct, and
- You knew or believed that you were not entitled to the benefit or payment amount that you received.
What are the consequences of conviction?
As stated earlier, you will have to repay any overpayment you have received whether you are found guilty or defrauding Centrelink or not.
If you are found guilty of fraud, you may face the following penalties:
- A fine (up to $10,200 or $102,000 depending on the seriousness of the offence).
- Imprisonment (up to 12 months, 5 years or 10 years, depending on the offence).
The penalty you receive and whether you receive a prison sentence will depend on various factors including:
- The amount of overpayment due to Centrelink fraud
- The length of time that you defrauded Centrelink
- Whether you have defrauded Centrelink before
- Whether you came forward and admitted your actions to Centrelink or whether they found you out
- Whether you pleaded guilty or not guilty
- Whether you have paid any of the owed money back
- Any mitigating personal circumstances
Who can I talk to if I’m facing charges?
You should seek legal advice before you speak with Centrelink. You should also seek legal advice if the CDPP lays charges against you.
Because Centrelink fraud is a criminal offence, Legal Aid or your local community legal centre should be able to give you assistance if you cannot afford to pay for a private lawyer. Either way, you will need to get advice from a criminal lawyer who has experience with Centrelink fraud cases.
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