If you are found guilty (or plead guilty) to Centrelink fraud, depending upon the circumstances of the offence, and your previous criminal history, the Court may impose a heavy fine and imprisonment.
Centrelink Fraud Lawyers in NSW
Our Criminal Law Team can assist you with matters related to Centrelink fraud, we have the experience and expertise necessary to ensure you receive the best possible outcome.
We’ve been defending the people of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Central Coast and the Hunter region since 1969 and have helped our clients to achieve the best possible outcomes in all Criminal Law matters.
We are used to dealing with the Police and know all the ‘ins and outs’ of the Courts and Justice system.
If you have been charged with Centrelink fraud, contact our Criminal Law Team today to book a teleconference or appointment. We’ll fight vigorously to protect your freedom and rights.
What is Centrelink fraud?
Centrelink fraud involves intentionally receiving money you are not entitled to receive from Centrelink. Offences involving social security fraud are treated very seriously by the Courts because they involve intentional deception of a government resource.
The majority of Centrelink cases involve not declaring your income to Centrelink, by under-reporting or not advising Centrelink if you become employed.
To be found guilty of Centrelink fraud you must be aware that you are receiving more money than you are entitled to in your circumstances.
You can be found guilty of Centrelink fraud if you:
- Fail to advise Centrelink you are living as a couple
- Fail to declare your partner’s income
- Claim benefits under false identities
- Claim benefits for children that are no longer in your care
- Claim benefits for caring for someone that is no longer in need of care
- Incorrectly stating your living circumstances and assets
- Incorrectly claiming emergency payments in times of disaster when no entitlement exists
But what if you give the money back?
If Centrelink consider the offence serious they will refer the matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (“CDPP”). The CDPP will consider whether to proceed with prosecution, even if you offer to pay the money back.
Because of the severity and widespread nature of Centrelink Fraud, the CDPP may consider the prosecution of the offence to be in the best interests of the public.
What are the likely penalties for Centrelink fraud?
If your matter is dealt with in the Local Court the maximum term of imprisonment you will receive is 2 years. If your matter is dealt with in the District Court the maximum sentence is 10 years imprisonment.
As in every criminal matter there are mitigating and aggravating factors. Aggravating factors for Centrelink fraud include:
- If the amount of money fraudulently obtained was substantial;
- If multiple identities were used;
- If there were attempts to conceal the offending; and
- If the offences spanned a long period of time.
Mitigating factors include:
- An early guilty plea;
- Co-operation with authorities; and
- Voluntarily ceasing the deception prior to detection.
What are the recent case studies related to Centrelink fraud?
The Court of Criminal Appeal has repeatedly said offences of this nature, carried out over a long period of time require immediate custodial sentences. Alternatives to a custodial sentence will only be considered in exceptional circumstances. Exceptional circumstances include but are not limited to: monies obtained being spent on necessities and not luxuries, unblemished character, positive contributions to the community, delay in commonwealth pressing charges (e.g. where defendants have begun paying money fraudulently obtained back and receiving notice of a charge for the same offence 2 years later) and medical problems that would make imprisonment burdensome.
- In McGuiness v R  Ms McGuiness plead guilty to obtaining $55,132.98 in overpayments. Ms McGuiness was in receipt of the partner allowance and did not declare she was in part-time employment. A term of imprisonment of 9 months was imposed. The Court found that exceptional circumstances existed for the sentence to be served by way of periodic detention, however Ms McGuiness’s residence was too remote and periodic detention was found unsuitable. The exceptional circumstances that existed included that the monies obtained had not been spent on luxuries, the defendant had no prior criminal history and at the time of sentence had repaid the substantial amount of $42,800.00.
- In R v Morrissey (2015) Ms Morrissey was a 63 year old pensioner who dishonestly received $193,679.14 in pension payments after her mother’s death in 2002. Ms Morrissey’s late mother was receiving a war widows pension prior to her death and Ms Morrissey had kept her late Mother’s bank account open, withdrawing the fortnightly payments as they were deposited by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Ms Morrissey made full admission after detection. Ms Morrissey was charged with theft of commonwealth property and sentenced to 2 years and 4 months imprisonment and a reparation order in the sum of $193,229.14 was also made.
- In R v Leffers (2011) Ms Leffers was in receipt of Newstart Allowance and Widow’s Allowance whilst simultaneously receiving income from 4 different employers in 3 different names. These sources of income were paid into different accounts. Ms Leffers was 57 years of age when she was charged and had been overpaid $91,217.96 over 8 and a half years. She was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment and a reparation order in the amount of $89,317.96 was also made.
What is the Court’s view on Centrelink fraud?
Social Security offences are considered prevalent and difficult to detect. Courts have indicated that the penalties imposed should reflect the concern for the protection of revenue. The Courts treat this type of fraud seriously as it threatens the basis of the Social Security System that provides financial security to the nation’s poorest. If the fraud is committed over a lengthy time your moral blameworthiness will increase. The amounts of money involved are significant matters for consideration.
The Court has affirmed in its dealings with Centrelink fraud that a custodial sentence is to be imposed for social security fraud except in exceptional circumstances. If the fraud is based on a perceived need, a custodial sentence must be expected and if the fraud is based on greed the custodial sentence will be longer.
How can you obtain the best outcome when it comes to sentencing for Centrelink fraud?
If you have committed Centrelink fraud it is extremely important that you obtain specialise legal advice.
While Centrelink fraud is a serious offence and sentencing trends indicate that a term of imprisonment is a commonly imposed penalty at Turnbull Hill lawyers we regularly achieved non-custodial sentences for a Centrelink fraud range matters including matters where the money fraudulently obtained was in excess of $100,000.
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