Over a period of 20 fortnights, whilst in receipt of Centrelink’s Parenting Payment, our client failed to correctly declare the amount of her income from paid employment to Centrelink. As a result, she received benefits to which she was only partially entitled, or not entitled at all, totalling an amount of $5,586.78.
The overpayment of the benefit was detected by Centrelink’s data-matching system, and our client was subsequently charged with two counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception from a Commonwealth entity, in breach of section 135.2(1) of the Commonwealth Criminal Code. In actual fact, the offence arose out of an innocent mistake on our client’s part – she was declaring her net income to Centrelink, as she was not aware that it was her gross income, and not her net income, that had to be declared.
Our client was a mother of two young children, had no prior criminal record, and was seeking employment with the NSW Police Force. She had commenced repaying the debt to Centrelink. We considered that our client’s subjective circumstances warranted the making of representations to the prosecution – that is, a request to the prosecution that the case against our client be discontinued. The matter was adjourned at Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney to enable this request to be made.
Our request persuaded the prosecution that the most appropriate course of action would be to drop the charges against our client. As such, when the matter came before the Local Court, the prosecution sought leave to discontinue the proceedings, and the two charges were withdrawn and dismissed. The courts have repeatedly stressed the seriousness of social security fraud and that offences of this nature are usually punished with a term of imprisonment. In light of this, the fact that our client’s matter did not even proceed and the charges were dropped, is an exceptional outcome.
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