What is Centrelink Fraud?

Centrelink fraud, also known as social security fraud or welfare fraud, occurs when someone receives social benefits they are not entitled to. This usually happens because they have mistakenly, or purposely, provided incorrect information.

There are several different forms of Centrelink Fraud under sections 134 and 135 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). These offences are described in the legislation as obtaining property or financial advantage by dishonesty or deception. They include gaining a benefit:

  • Under a false name.
  • By reporting less income than earned.
  • By failing to declare property.
  • By failing to declare a relationship.

It is sometimes difficult to know if you are entitled to a Centrelink benefit, and if so, which benefit. A few possible scenarios that could get you into trouble include:

  • Your circumstances change and you forget to notify Centrelink.
  • You provide requested information to Centrelink, but the information is insufficient.
  • You perform part time work and receive a top up benefit, but one week your income exceeds the threshold level and you don’t declare it.

 

How do Centrelink investigate?

Centrelink fraud offences are prosecuted by the office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).

If Centrelink suspects that you have committed an offence, they will first conduct an investigation. They may invite you to attend a formal interview or may come to your house. If they still believe you committed an offence, they will then refer the matter to the CDPP.

If you have been asked to attend an interview with Centrelink regarding a possible overpayment, it is likely that the matter will be referred to the CDPP who may bring criminal charges.  You should seek legal advice from an experienced defence lawyer.

 

What happens to Centrelink cheats?

Courts treat these offences seriously. The penalties for Centrelink fraud range from 12 months to 10 years imprisonment. If you obtain a Centrelink benefit by deception, a prison sentence is a likely outcome, and you may be liable for the 10 years maximum sentence.

“By deception” might include claiming unemployment benefits but receiving income under a false name.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

How is Centrelink fraud discovered?

Quite often, offences are discovered by cross-checking Centrelink information with the Australian Taxation Office when a tax return is lodged.

Previously, once a discrepancy was discovered, a Centrelink officer would conduct a basic investigation before sending out a letter asking the recipient for an explanation. Since 2016, the “robo debt” computer system which detects discrepancies automatically sends out a letter.

What happens with Centrelink overpayment cases?

If Centrelink thinks they have paid you too much, they may issue you with a debt notice or an “accounts payable” notice detailing the amount you owe them and the payment options. If you are still receiving Centrelink benefits, they will deduct a percentage of money from your payments to cover the debt.

Will Centrelink prosecute me / will I go to jail for Centrelink debt?

Just because you have received more money than you were entitled to, this does not necessarily mean you will be charged with a crime. Centrelink is more likely to pursue an investigation or prosecution if they believe you were intentionally deceptive or the amount you incorrectly received was substantial.

What happens if I lie to Centrelink about my relationship status?

If you lie about your relationship status to Centrelink for the purpose of gaining payments, or increased payments, then you may have committed Centrelink fraud. You could be issued a notice seeking recovery of the payments, or if Centrelink believes your actions were serious, they may refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

How can we help?

We are experienced in successfully defending Centrelink fraud charges.

Book a free consultation or call us on 1300 668 484 for 24/7 legal advice.