Criminal Law

Centrelink Fraud Cases - No Convictions

Charge: Obtain financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity (Centrelink Fraud case); pursuant to section 135.2 of the Criminal Code.

Penalties: The maximum Centrelink Fraud penalties are a term of imprisonment for 12 months and an order to repay any amount still owed.

Case Summaries: These were two separate Centrelink Fraud cases involving two different clients, that were dealt with by the Court on the same day. Both clients coincidentally worked in the same profession and were concerned about their careers, as a criminal conviction could have resulted in them ending.

The circumstances in the matters were similar - both clients had not declared all their income to Centrelink and were overpaid their benefits. The differences between the two were that in the second matter, the over-payment was a little larger and amounted to around $8,000. However, the subjective circumstances of the second client were more compelling.

We made submissions in the first matter, relying on the fact that our client had pleaded guilty, the sum that was overpaid was not large, she had no previous convictions and it had been some time since the offending occurred. Of course, we also submitted that a conviction could jeopardise her career and that this could be considered a harsh consequence for limited offending that occurred several years prior.

Results: The Magistrate agreed with our submissions and exercised leniency, deciding to dismiss the matter pursuant to section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act, which meant that although she was guilty of the offence, our client was not given a criminal conviction. Our submission that this was at the lower end of seriousness as far as these types of cases went was accepted.

We made similar submissions immediately thereafter in the next matter before the Magistrate, however, the sum was significantly larger and his Honour required further persuasion. In addition to the similar circumstances in the first matter, it was argued that despite the large sum, our client had clearly offended out of "need" rather than "greed", as she was a single mother, caring for several children and was a also the carer for her mother at the time. The Magistrate took these additional matters into account and again, was persuaded to dismiss the matter without recording a conviction.

Both clients escaped criminal records and are successfully continuing in their respective careers.

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