Centrelink fraud offences are one of the most common and frequently prosecuted Commonwealth criminal offences. Centrelink fraud offences are serious and the maximum penalty can range from imprisonment of between 12 months and 10 years depending upon which charge the Commonwealth DPP choose to prosecute an individual with.
Centrelink Fraud Investigations
Centrelink will normally give you the opportunity to participate in a taped record of interview prior to referring the matter to the CDPP. You should seek legal advice before making a decision to attend or not to attend any interview,as any admissions you make may be used against you in court proceedings.
We have two lawyers at Armstrong Legal who were employed by the CDPP and were in the Centrelink fraud section. They have extensive experience in this area and will be able to advise you whether participating in an interview will assist your case or not.
Centrelink overpayment: will I be charged?
This is a common question and it is important to be clear about the separate steps prior to a criminal prosecution being initiated.If you have been overpaid money by Centrelink, either because you have failed to correctly declare your income, or failed to update Centrelink with details that affect your payment,Centrelink may raise a debt or overpayment. This means that you owe Centrelink the amount overpaid and Centrelink will take action to recover the money from you. You may have the overpayment reduced or waived after an internal review or an appeal to the Social Security Administrative Tribunal, Normally this Centrelink achieve this by deducting money from and payments that you may be entitled to. The mere fact that there is an overpayment does not necessarily mean that you will be charged with a Centrelink offence.
Centrelink fraud charges
Centrelink are likely to charge you with a Centrelink fraud if the amount overpaid is not trivial and Centrelink believe that you intentionally and knowingly engaged in conduct to obtain more money than you were entitled. In other words, what you did was more than just carelessness or negligence. For example, you intentionally failed to declare your income so you would be paid more benefits than you were entitled.
Centrelink fraud prosecutions
If Centrelink believe that an offence may have been committed, after the overpayment has been raised and an investigation completed, Centrelink will refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).
The CDPP are an independent body and it is their role to make a final decision on whether criminal charges will be laid. They will consider whether the evidence is sufficient for there to be reasonable prospects of a conviction,and they will also consider whether it is in the public interest for charges to be laid. In doing so, they will consider factors such as the amount overpaid and whether there were any aggravating features to the conduct (for example whether false statements were made to Centrelink, or whether false or multiple identities were used).
Centrelink fraud penalties
The most common charge in these matters is obtaining a financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity, section 135.2(1) Criminal Code 1995 (Commonwealth).This carries a maximum penalty of 12 months jail and/or a fine of $6,600. It is a summary offence which means it can only be dealt with in the Local Court. The vast majority of people charged with a Centrelink offence are charged under this section and dealt with in the Local Court.
However, in some cases the prosecution may decide that the conduct alleged is so serious that the matter should be dealt with in the District Court. This means that maximum penalties increase (up to 10 years imprisonment), and the matter will be heard and determined in the District Court before a Judge and possibly a jury if the matter is defended.
Other less commonly charged offences include making a false statement in a claim for a benefit, s.136 Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).If you receive a Court Attendance Notice you have been formally charged. You should seek the assistance of solicitor as soon as possible.
Centrelink Fraud Sentencing Statistics
The 3 most common charges that the Commonwealth DPP proceeds with are:
1. Dishonestly obtain a financial advantage (Section 135.2(1) of the Criminal Code ACT 1995)
2. Dishonestly cause a loss (Section 135.1(5) of the Criminal Code ACT 1995)
3. Obtain a financial advantage by deception (Section 134.2(1) of the Criminal Code ACT 1995)
For more information contact Armstrong Legal:
Level 4 127 York Street Sydney, NSW 2000 (Opposite the Queen Victoria Building) Phone: (02) 9261 4555 After Hours: 0404 55 88 33