Criminal Law

Obtaining a Benefit by Deception from Centrelink

The offence of Obtaining a Benefit by Deception from Centrelink is the second most common Centrelink offence that we come across. It is a similar offence to obtaining a financial advantage from Centrelink, however, it is more serious because it involves, in short, an "intention to defraud" by a means of deception. (For the less serious and more common Centrelink offence, where typically, someone has under-reported their earnings, read our article on "obtaining a financial advantage from Centrelink".)

The Law

Pursuant to section 134.2 of the Criminal Code a person is guilt of this offence if:

- the person, by deception, dishonestly obtains a financial advantage from another person; and
- the other person is a Commonwealth entity (eg Centrelink).

Penalties

The maximum penalty for this offence is a term of imprisonment for 10 years. Court costs are usually ordered and reparation orders are always made for the offender to pay back the money owed.

Commentary

It is this offence that is properly termed "Centrelink Fraud", as it involves the elements of a typical fraud offence, being:

- obtaining a financial advantage

- dishonesty

- deception

The less serious offence of obtaining a financial advantage from Centrelink does not involve the elements of deception or dishonesty and it is that particular offence that most people are charged with, resulting from the usual things such as not declaring all income or a change in circumstances.

With this particular Centrelink offence, the prosecution needs to prove not only that the person acted in a dishonest manner but that they also committed an act of deception. Typical examples that illustrate the difference between this more serious version of Centrelink offences and the more common offence where someone is simply overpaid due to not properly declaring income or a change of circumstances are:

  1. Claiming benefits in two different names
  2. Claiming benefits in a false name
  3. Forging documents that have been lodge with Centrelink for the purpose of claiming benefits (such as payslips)
  4. Intentionally providing false information to induce Centrelink into providing benefits

In the above examples, the person has acted in a deceitful manner. The offence is more difficult for the prosecution to prove because of the additional elements of dishonesty and deception that need to be made out. It must also be borne in mind that they are two, distinct elements that must be proved. Someone can act dishonestly and in doing so, obtain a financial advantage, however, this does not always mean that they deceived the other person (or entity) to place themselves in a position to obtain the financial advantage. It is important to always consider whether both elements can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in any particular case.

If Centrelink form a view that someone may be defrauding the system, they commence investigations to obtain as much information as possible to determine whether a particular matter should be referred to the the prosecutor (the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP]). This can involve accessing banking information, taxation information, interviewing potential witnesses and executing search warrants on properties. Often, people come to Centrelink's attention by way of a "tip off" and that is when the investigation begins. 

As with most criminal investigations, Centrelink officers typically offer potential offenders an opportunity to be interviewed. It is at this point that it is extremely important to obtain competent legal advice. A suspected person is under no obligation to participate in an interview with Centrelink and, from our experience, it is extremely unusual for an interview to assist a suspected person in any material way. These are very serious charges that can result in sentences of full time imprisonment and therefore, advice should be obtained at the first available opportunity.

If you have been charged with the offence of Obtaining a Benefit by Deception from Centrelink, or have been approached by Centrelink to participate in a record of interview, our experts at Prime Lawyers - Criminal Law Division can help. Contact us to speak to a criminal lawyer at your nearest Prime Lawyers office.

We have offices in Sydney, Parramatta, Chatswood, Sutherland and Wollongong.    

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