Centrelink fraud – how serious is it?
Centrelink fraud is estimated to cost the Australian government approximately $3.5 billion dollars each year. Fraudulently obtaining payments you are not entitled to through Centrelink is a Commonwealth offence that can come with some serious penalties.
What is it Centrelink fraud?
Centrelink fraud is when one deliberately misleads Centrelink in-order-to receive payments which they are otherwise ineligible for, or if they purposely abuse the services provided by Centrelink. Examples of fraudulently misleading Centrelink include:
- Intentionally giving false or misleading information to Centrelink.
- Purposefully or knowingly completing a Centrelink form incorrectly.
- Receiving a payment or a rate of payment they know they are not entitled to.
What are some examples of Centrelink fraud?
While this list is not an exhaustive list, here are some examples of what is considered Centrelink fraud in Australia:
- 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.
Penalties for defrauding Centrelink
Both Centrelink and the Australian Courts take allegations of fraud very seriously. It is considered stealing from public funds that are otherwise meant to help those who are most in need.
Centrelink has the capability to detect and investigate fraud by matching data with government departments, financial institutions and other private entities, allowing it to discover undeclared income and pick up on identity fraud. It also uses advanced data analysis and optical surveillance to identify and investigate discrepancies, and it also has a very well established ‘whistle-blower’ system which allows third parties to report suspected fraud.
A person who is found guilty of fraud can be fined or imprisoned, even if they have paid or are paying the money back, this is based on the fact that they have fraudulently taken it in the first place.
When charging someone with fraud, the court may take into account the following:
- The sum of money which was obtained. The larger the amount the more likely the individual is to get a severe penalty.
- How long the fraud was carried out for. One or two isolated incidents will be treated differently to long-term fraudulent activities which may have gone on for years.
- Whether or not the individual has since paid back some or all of the money, or whether there has been an attempt to make reparations.
- Whether the money was used for personal gain or for some other reason.
- The individual’s motivation for committing the offence and whether there were any mitigating circumstances which contributed to it.
There are four common charges for those who commit Centrelink fraud. These charges are:
- Obtaining financial advantage: maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment;
- General dishonesty causing a loss: maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment;
- Obtaining a financial advantage by deception: maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment; and
- Obtaining property by deception: maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.
Further support and advice for dealing with Centrelink fraud charges
If you have been charged with Centrelink fraud you should seek the advice from a lawyer that is experienced with fraud cases and that can outline your rights on how to effectively defend your Centrelink fraud charges. A list of the leading criminal defence lawyers in Queensland can be found on Doyle’s Guide.