Centrelink pays around $90 billion in social security payments and other benefits to around seven million people. Centrelink are vigilant in policing these payments but with such a big budget and client base it is inevitable that some mistakes occur. However, even if you have been inadvertently overpaid and you attempt to pay the money back, in some cases, you can end up committing social security fraud and facing fraud charges.
Centrelink fraud offences are one of the most commonly prosecuted offences under Commonwealth law. The offences are serious and the penalties are correspondingly harsh. Penalties can range from 12 months imprisonment to 10 years imprisonment. Hefty fines can be imposed in addition to the mandatory repayment of monies allegedly owed.
However, there are a number of alternative sentences available to imprisonment, such as a suspended sentence, a good behaviour bond, a community service order, or a fine as mentioned above. It is highly recommended that you seek professional legal advice if you find yourself being investigated by the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in relation to an alleged Centrelink Fraud.
Some examples of Centrelink Fraud and Social Security Fraud are:
- Receiving a Centrelink payment but not declaring income from another source, such as employment, a business, or rental property
- Receiving payments for the care of a child who is not under your care
- Receiving multiple payments under multiple names ie identity fraud
- Taking the Centrelink payments of a deceased person
- Overstating an injury or medical condition to receive payments
- Making a false claim on an Australian Disaster Relief Payment
- Continuing to receive payments for study after completing the study or substantially reducing the hours of study
- Failing to advise Centrelink of a change in your living arrangements, for example if you move in with someone you are in a relationship with
- Receiving the Newstart Allowance when you are working
- Receiving the Newstart Allowance as a single person when you are in a de facto or domestic relationship
- Receiving a Parenting Payment (single) when you are in a ‘marriage-like’ relationship (this payment used to be called a ‘sole parent pension’)
- Continuing to receive a pension or benefit when you are no longer entitled to it
It is an offence to deliberately and knowingly receive an allowance, pension or any other benefit that you are not entitled to or believe you are not entitled to. It is also an offence to knowingly or carelessly complete a form incorrectly, or to give false or misleading information to Centrelink.
Centrelink Fraud is a criminal offence and in order to be found guilty of a criminal offence you must have had the intention to commit the offence. The burden is on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you deliberately committed the offence.
If the DPP become involved they will most likely charge you with an offence under s 135 (1) of the Criminal Code 1995. The required elements for an offence under s135 (1) Criminal Code 1995 are:
- The person intentionally engaged in conduct
- As a result of the conduct, the person obtained money from Centrelink
- The money was obtained knowingly
If you were unaware of the offence you should not be found guilty. If you have made an honest mistake or honest assumption then you haven’t committed any offence.
Most Centrelink fraud cases are dealt with by the local court system, with more serious cases being heard in the District Court. The DPP decides which cases are prosecuted in the District court. The cases in the District Court tend to involve the defrauding of large sums of money over a long period of time, featuring elaborate concealment and/or identity theft.
If you are contacted by Centrelink don’t disclose anything and contact a lawyer before agreeing to any kind of interview.
At North Shore Criminal Law we can help you defend the charges or mitigate the penalties. We can appear for you in both the Local Court and the District Court. Call North Shore Criminal Law on (02) 9955 2298 or our 24 hour Emergency Service on 0400 44 64 24.
There are a number of factors which will affect the outcome of your case:
- The amount of money you obtained
- Any attempts you made to conceal the alleged offence
- The period of time over which the alleged fraud was committed
- The making of any false statements or declarations
- Any money that you paid back to Centrelink
- Any extenuating personal circumstances
- A previous criminal record
In defending an alleged Centrelink fraud it is not enough to rely on your previous good character. Many people of usually good character can find themselves being investigated by Centrelink and the DPP.
What are your rights?
You have the right to obtain legal advice before you make any payments to Centrelink or before you speak with a Centrelink officer.
If Centrelink believes you have been paid more than you are entitled to, or that you have deliberately received payments that you are not entitled to, you will receive a letter informing you of the debt which gives you 28 days to pay it. In some instances you may be asked to pay interest on the amount you owe.
You have the right to refuse entry to a Centrelink Officer who attends your home.
Centrelink can send an officer to your home for a number of reasons. If they suspect that you may be in a marriage like relationship but are still receiving a single person’s benefit; they are following up on an incorrect payment; or they suspect you of an alleged fraud. You don’t have to allow the Centrelink officer into your home nor do you have to answer any questions. You can insist on the right to be interviewed at a Centrelink office instead after you have had the opportunity to get legal advice.
You can also insist that:
- The officer explain the reason for the visit and provide you with details of any information they have
- The officer put the questions in writing allowing you to answer them at another date giving you the chance to review the questions and seek legal advice
- You don’t sign anything until you have received legal advice
- You have another person present when you are in the company of the officer
- You have an interpreter
- You receive a copy of the Centrelink Brochure which outlines your rights and should include the officer’s identification details, including their name and phone number.
Call North Shore Criminal Law on (02) 9955 2298 or our 24 hour Emergency Service on 0400 44 64 24 for expert legal advice and representation.