Is Centrelink fraud a crime?

by Fourtree Lawyers

What is Centrelink fraud?

Centrelink fraud involves misleading Centrelink deliberately to receive payments you are not entitled to. Defrauding Social Security is regarded as a serious offence. Penalties for Centrelink fraud may include hefty fines, criminal charges and up to ten year’s imprisonment. If you have been charged with Centrelink fraud, you will need to get urgent legal advice.

How does Centrelink find out about fraud?

Centrelink has many active investigation teams who have the sole purpose of the finding people who are engaged in fraud. The investigation officers are case focused and are looking for information which may be sufficient to prove an offence.

Examples of the type of information which the investigator might be looking for to support an allegation of fraud include.

  • A failure to declare income from employment, investments, or any other source;
  • The use of several different names to claim a benefit;
  • An understatement of assets or the omission of an asset(s) to obtain a benefit;

This list is not an exhaustive by any means and the investigators have a wide variety of information sources available at their disposal.

Computer generated data matching between Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office can uncover employment income which has not been declared to Centrelink.

This type of fraud may also come to light by way of an anonymous tip-off to the Centrelink fraud line.
Once Centrelink has enough information to conduct a formal interview the investigation officer will make contact with the person under investigation.

What should I do if I have been accused?

A Centrelink investigator may contact you directly by phone to request a formal interview. They may also knock on your front door and attempt to interview you on the spot about the matter which is under investigation.

If you receive an invitation for a formal interview or a knock on the front door, it would be in your best interest to contact a lawyer before saying anything.

At this stage, you will not know what information the investigator has been able to find out. If you take part in an interview, the information you provide may be the evidence needed to satisfy or strengthen the prosecution case for Centrelink.

Before attending an interview, you should ask Centrelink to provide you with full details of the payments made to you and how Centrelink has calculated any overpayment.

You should also read our post on the “Right to Silence” before taking part in any interview with Centrelink.

What happens after the investigation?

After the inquiry by Centrelink is completed, a brief will be sent to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (the CDPP) who will consider your conduct and the duration of the fraud when determining which offence you should be charged with under Commonwealth Criminal Code (the Code). The CDPP will often use one of the following offences:

  • Obtain financial advantage, s.135.2(1) of the Code which has a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment;
  • General dishonesty causing a loss, s.135.1(5) of the Code which has a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment;
  • Obtaining a financial advantage by deception, s.134.2(1) of the Code which has a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison;

The CDPP may use any other offence in the Code which it considers to be more appropriate. In this regard, you should be aware that the CDPP has a broad range of charges to choose from in the Code.

Prosecution in the Court

An offence under the Code is a serious matter and the CDPP have the onus of proof of the offence to the Court on the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt:

  • That your conduct was intentional and dishonest;
  • The benefit which you obtained as a consequence of your behaviour;
  • You knew or believed that you were not eligible for the benefit obtained.

Prosecutions of this nature are often complex and a conviction will often be assisted by the information which has been provided in a formal interview with a Centrelink investigator.

The Courts have affirmed on several occasions in their sentencing of Centrelink fraud matters that a custodial sentence is appropriate unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Should I pay back the overpayments?

The CDPP may give consideration as to whether or not to proceed with a prosecution where the benefits obtained have been paid back to Centrelink. Some of the factors which may be taken into account in a matter of this nature include:

  • The duration of the fraud and the complexity of the fraud;
  • Belief on reasonable basis of entitlement to the benefit;
  • Regardless of conviction in the Courts, you will have to pay back any overpayments which have been made by Centrelink.

 

Do I need a lawyer?

Centrelink fraud is seen by the Courts as a serious matter as it threatens the basis of the community Social Security System which provides security to the poorest people in the nation.

If you have been charged with Centrelink fraud, you should seek advice from an experienced criminal defence lawyer at the earliest opportunity.

Fourtree Lawyers is a private law firm based in the Central Coast of NSW, which provides legal representation in Centrelink fraud matters. Our contact phone number is 1300 529 444 which is available 24 hours a day



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