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.