Centrelink fraud offences are among the most frequently prosecuted Commonwealth criminal offences. Sometimes the behaviour complained of is deliberate, but motivated by genuine financial hardship rather than greed. Sometimes it is quite accidental. Even individuals who have been inadvertently overpaid and are attempting to pay the money back may end up facing fraud charges. If you suspect that you are under criminal investigation for Centrelink fraud, you should seek immediate legal advice because there may be defences that can help you avoid criminal penalties including fines and imprisonment.
Centrelink Fraud Offences
- Failing to declare part-time earnings whilst on Newstart Allowance;
- Failing to declare live-in defacto relationship whilst on Single Parenting Payment;
- Obtaining a Disability Pension and failing to disclose full time employment;
- Not declaring income from employment, investments or other sources;
- Exaggerating a medical condition;
- Submitting false or forged documents;
- Obtaining payment for children not in your care;
- Collecting rent assistance when rent is not being paid;
- Using more than one name to access benefits; and
- Over-claiming benefits without any present entitlement.
Centrelink Fraud offences are what are known as “full knowledge offences”. To establish that a crime has occurred, the prosecution must establish that the conduct was intentional and that the defendant knew or believed that he or she was not entitled to receive that money from Centrelink.
Defences and Mitigating Factors
- Lack of knowledge or intention is the principal avenue of defence, but other circumstances may mitigate the penalties imposed. These include:
- Personal financial hardship;
- The amount of money obtained;
- The length of the fraud;
- False statements or any positive attempts to deceive (or the absence thereof); and
- Any money paid back to Centrelink.
Whether the fraud was intentional or accidental, any overpaid entitlements will still have to be repaid.
If you are charged with Centrelink fraud, it is very important that you seek legal advice, especially if you have not previously done so.
There are four charges, with varying maximum penalties, that the CDPP commonly presses against alleged Centrelink fraud offenders:
- Obtaining financial advantage (s135.2(1) of Criminal Code);
- General dishonesty causing a loss (s135.1(5) of Criminal Code);
- Obtaining a financial advantage by deception (s134.2(1) of Criminal Code); and
- Obtaining property by deception (s134.1(1) of Criminal Code).
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