Centrelink fraud is 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 Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) chooses to prosecute.
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 Centrelink achieves this by deducting money from 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 believes 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 CDPP.
The CDPP is an independent body and its role is to decide whether criminal charges will be laid. It will consider whether the evidence is sufficient for there to be reasonable prospects of a conviction, and it will also consider whether it is in the public interest for charges to be laid. In doing so, it 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).
For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.