Image credit: Rose Makin.

Key Takeaways

Centrelink fraud offences are widespread in Australia and attracts heavy criminal penalties. Centrelink payments offences are typically offences of receiving more money from Centrelink than what you’re actually entitled to, resulting in a Centrelink debt. Not knowing that you were receiving more money than you were entitled to is a defence to a Centrelink fraud prosecution, however this can result in you still owing Centrelink money. Centrelink will normally investigate you if they suspect you’re claiming more social security benefits than your entitled to, because of routine data matching checks or from a tip-off.

This original article has been written and kept up-to-date by our experienced Centrelink fraud lawyer.

Centrelink Debt & Not Declaring Income to Centrelink

Failing to accurately declare your income or employment correctly results in Centrelink overpayments due to being overpaid by Centrelink. These types of overpayment Centrelink offences include, not declaring your employment or under-declaring your income and failing to update Centrelink.

If you are overpaid by Centrelink, then you will have a Centrelink debt that must be repaid. Repaying a Centrelink debt before you are sentenced in court can significantly improve your chances at avoiding jail, and sometimes even at avoiding a criminal record, depending on the features of your case.

Other Centrelink fraud offences include:

  • Not declaring your partner’s income
  • Receiving carer payments or benefits during periods you were no longer a carer,
  • Receiving disability support payments during periods you were no longer suffering the particular kind of disability,
  • Receiving payments for caring for children while you were not caring for those children,
  • Receiving payments or benefits from Centrelink under different names,
  • Not declaring that you are now residing with a partner.
  • Child support fraud i.e. claiming a child is in your name when it is untrue, making false or misleading statements.

What if I don’t update Centrelink on a change of my income or circumstances?

Before 4 August 2011, a person who omits to update Centrelink of an increase in income or circumstances could not be prosecuted. However, after 4 August 2011, a person who fails to update Centrelink can be prosecuted and face the same heavy penalties under s 135.2 Criminal Code. This is because, s66A Social Security (Administration) Act clarifies that a failure to update is an omission and is considered ‘conduct’. S66A also creates a legal obligation to disclose such updates if you’ve been served a notice to disclose such updates. It also allows you a grace period of within 14 days to update Centrelink from the day your income is first increased or change of circumstances occurs.

Centrelink Fraud Penalties

Table of Centrelink Fraud Penalties and Sentences

Legislation Offence Local Court Penalty District Court Penalty Penalty for Corporations
s134.2 CCC Obtain Financial Advantage by Deception 2 years jail and/or $26,640 10 years jail $133,200
s135.2 CCC Obtain Financial Advantage 1 year jail and/or $13,320 N/A 1 year jail and/or $13,320
s134.1 CCC Obtain Property by Deception 2 years jail and/or $26,640 10 years jail $133,200
s135.1 CCC General Dishonestly: Dishonestly Obtain a Gain or Cause a Loss 2 years jail and/or $26,640 10 years jail $133,200
s135.4 CCC Conspires to Defraud by Dishonestly Obtain Gain or Cause Loss 2 years jail and/or $26,640 10 years jail $133,200
s136.1(1) CCC Knowingly making False or Misleading Statements in Applications 1 year jail and/or $13,320 N/A 1 year jail
s136.1(4) CCC Recklessly making False or Misleading Statements in Applications 6 months jail N/A 6 months jail
s137.1 CCC False or Misleading Information 1 year jail N/A 1 year jail
s137.1A CCC Aggravated offence for Giving False or Misleading Information 1 year jail and/or $13,320 5 years jail $66,600
s137.2 CCC False or Misleading Documents 1 year jail N/A 1 year jail

The main sections for these type of offences are sections 134.1, 134.2, 135.1, 135.2, and 135.4 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (CCC).

Centrelink fraud prosecution can result in heavy Centrelink fraud penalties, including a jail sentence depending on the seriousness of the offence. Therefore, depending on the specific features of a case, jail can also be avoided.

The sentence a court imposes will depend on:

  • Amount of money involved,
  • Period of time the Centrelink fraud took place,
  • Level of sophistication and planning used to obtain the financial benefits, including the difficulty in detecting it,
  • Extent of resources that went into detecting the offence,
  • Amount of money paid back,
  • Delay in bringing charging you and bringing proceedings and extent you have moved on with your life,
  • Whether you pleaded guilty early enough in the case to receive a discount on sentence, and
  • Any compelling explanation for committing the offence i.e. whether it was done in context of a vulnerability due to poverty or mental health reasons as opposed to greed. Other important factors are also taken into account effecting the sentence, such as your age, personal circumstances, dependants, and your state of mind and mental health.

Centrelink Fraud Report & Report Centrelink Fraud

Reporting Centrelink Fraud is not an uncommon occurrence in Australia. Centrelink is there to help the community to find and maintain jobs, and to provide much needed financial assistance to those who need it most, the most vulnerable. The money that Centrelink pay out basically comes from hard earning tax-payer pockets. If you suspect a person is committing a Centrelink fraud offence or are Centrelink cheats, it can be anonymously reported either online by completing an online form, or calling the fraud tip-off hotline on 131 524.

How to dob someone into Centrelink? To report or dob in a welfare cheat, read the online forms carefully because there are different forms for various types of fraud cases.

How to report Centrelink fraud?

If reporting a Centrelink cheat online, it is important to be as specific as possible with as much detail as possible. If you’re unaware of the answer to a question, it is ok to simply state that you do not know.

Centrelink fraud is also referred to as welfare fraud and can take the form of:

  • Receiving Centrelink benefits while travelling or living overseas and failing to tell Centrelink.
  • Receiving Centrelink payments as a carer for a person who no longer lives or for a person you no longer care for.
  • Receiving Centrelink payments and not telling Centrelink about an increase in income, employment, change of circumstances such as living with someone as a member of a couple.
  • Telling Centrelink false or misleading information about income or employment. i.e. reporting less income than actually earned.
  • Claiming Centrelink payments or services with false identity or someone else’s ID.

After making a report to Centrelink, Centrelink will conduct its investigation based on the information provided. Centrelink will not provide you with any updates on the progress of the investigation because it is kept strictly confidential. All suspected Centrelink fraud cases are taken seriously.

If Centrelink discover a person receives incorrect payments because of Centrelink fraud, then Centrelink will decide whether or not to take further steps, including referring the case to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP). This can then result in criminal charges, carrying heavy criminal penalties involving jail.

It is strongly recommended to speak to an experienced criminal defence lawyers as early as possible for advice and guidance to know your rights and options.

Not all instances are intentional Centrelink fraud. Some people do genuinely make mistakes, including oversight, misunderstanding when completing forms, or forgetting to provide all relevant information.

Centrelink Overpayment, Large Centrelink Debt and Centrelink Back payment

What do to when Centrelink overpays you?

Whether you have received a Centrelink overpayment due to a mistake or an intentional or reckless fraud, you will be required to repay Centrelink debt. If you owe Centrelink money, you can either pay the money back in full, set up a payment plan or have deductions from your regular Centrelink payment or apply for an extension to pay. Failing to pay money can also affect your credit rating.

Do you have to pay back youth allowance too?

Yes you do. Any type of Centrelink overpayment is required to be paid back.

If you fail to do either of those things, Centrelink can take legal action to recover the money, including, prohibiting you from leaving Australia until the money is paid or at least until a payment plan is made; the debt may be referred to a debt collection agency to collect the debt from you via a legal process; your employer or bank may be directed through a court order called a garnishee order to pay Centrelink the money they would otherwise pay you; and/or you may be charged interest after the due date.

How to apply for an extension to pay the Centrelink debt?

When it comes to seeking Centrelink debt help because of experiencing trouble paying the debt on time, call and speak to Centrelink before your due date. You may apply for an extension. The contact number to call will be on your Centrelink letter outlining the debt and due date.

If you are still receiving Centrelink payment, then you may start getting a deducted amount from your regular payment until the debt is paid off. Alternatively,

If you are no longer receiving any money from Centrelink and need help paying the money back by getting on a payment plan, or you wish to make extra repayments to pay off your debt, you may use Centrelink’s ‘Money you Owe’ service here on your Centrelink online account, MyGov or Express Plus Centrelink Mobile App.

Click here for a simple guide on fines in NSW

How Far Back can Centrelink Audit?

Centrelink Audit can generally go as far back as Centrelink want it to. Centrelink can commence legal proceedings against you at any time, as there is no longer a statute of limitations. If a commonwealth charge carries a maximum penalty of 6 months or less jail or if there is no jail penalty, then there is a one year statute of limitations that applies. However, generally for Centrelink offences, which are usually commonwealth offences, the maximum penalties that apply are usually longer than 6 months jail.

How Does Centrelink Investigate and How Long Does a Centrelink Investigation Take?

Centrelink will investigate if they suspect you have received unentitled payments. Once Centrelink decide to investigate, Centrelink can require your bank or employer to disclose your financial details relevant to Centrelink purposes. This process can take week to months.

Centrelink also do routine data matching with other organisations, including the tax office.

Other forms of investigation may include, checking your social media i.e. Facebook, Instagram etc, eBay and any other publicly available details.

How do you know if Centrelink is investigating you and how do Centrelink Investigate? As part of the investigation process, Centrelink may then ask you to attend a Centrelink office for an interview. This interview is voluntary, and not compulsory to do. You can therefore refuse to attend this interview. You will not be in trouble for refusing to attend.

If you attend the voluntary interview, you will be interview by a Centrelink officer who will review your entitlement payments and investigate whether or not you have committed a Centrelink fraud. Some of the questions to expect include, whether you and your partner are receiving an income and from what source, any dependants such as children, and whether you are a member of a couple. The answers to their interview questions can be used against or in your favour. It’s strongly advised to get legal advice beforehand.

If requested to do a voluntary interview, you may refuse to attend and instead request that all questions be put in writing and sent to you to for you to consider with legal advice before you decide to answer.

Another form of investigation may include home visits by a Centrelink officer. If this happens to you, you have the right to refuse entry into your home, or you can make an organise another time and place to conduct the interview if you decide to provide on. You may also completely refuse an interview. In addition, you have the right to ask the Centrelink officer to leave your home at any time, even if you have let him/her in your home. You may also ask the Centrelink officer for the reason for their visit. If the reason was a tip-off by someone, Centrelink will not disclose who it was.

Will I go to Jail for Centrelink Debt & What Happens to Centrelink Cheats?

Do Centrelink cheats get Jail sentences?

Jail can be avoided for committing a Centrelink fraud offence, depending on how serious it is. Most Centrelink fraud cases involving Centrelink overpayment debt, under reporting income to Centrelink offences, or lying to Centrelink about relationship status are dealt with by the Local Court, not the District Court.

If the case dealt with on sentence in the Local Court, it means that the charges are dealt with ‘summarily’. The advantage of this is that the Local Court is limited to imposing a sentence of no more than two years imprisonment for an offence, or 3 years for more than one offence as an aggregate sentence. The District Court has the power to sentence an offender for more, and up to the maximum penalty prescribed in the charge.

Because Centrelink fraud offences vary in this type of offence, there is no general rule of thumb that imprisonment should be imposed to all offenders. There are other options of sentences, such as an Intensive Correction Order (ICO), Community Correction Order, or Conditional Release Order with or without a conviction. Which sentence an offender gets depends on factors outlined earlier, such as the amount of money, period of offending, level of sophistication, reason for offending, mental health issues and whether all or part of the money has been paid back etc.

The case of R v Hinchliffe [2013] NSWCCA 327 has said that the purposes of punishment for serious cases of white-collar crime are best met by imposing Full-Time Imprisonment than Intensive Correction Order.

The case of R v Pont (2000) 121 A Crim R 302 has said that where an offence involves a breach of trust by an employee, especially involving large or substantial sums, systematic dishonesty with planning and some sophistication, general deterrence warrants substantial sentences of imprisonment unless there are special features of the case.

However, higher courts in Australia have also said that Full-Time Imprisonment for white-collar crime is not a rule, and each case should be considered on its own features and circumstances (R v Brown (unrep, 1/8/94, NSWCCA)).

For example, if an offender was suffering a mental disorder at the time of the offence that impaired his/her judgment in committing the crime, which also disabled him/her to an extent from being able to control his/her conduct, the law says that the court should place less weight on general deterrence, and allow for a reduction in the offender’s criminality, in addition, to limit considerations to the seriousness of the offence. What does this mean? It means this can then significantly reduce a sentence from imprisonment to a non-custodial sentence. This principal of law is reflected in many higher court decisions.

Centrelink Debts over $20,000

If Centrelink overpays you by over $20,000, you will incur a Centrelink debt that must be repaid. This debt can then be paid in a number of way, including a full repayment, payment plan, or it can be repaid by deductions from your normal payments from Centrelink. You may also apply for an extension to repay the debt by contacting your closest Centrelink branch. Failure to repay the money can result in serious consequences outlined earlier in this article.

For Centrelink Debt Over $5,000 or over $10,000, the situation will be the same. Centrelink will require the money to be paid back.

When it comes to Centrelink Debt Tax Return, any money you owe Centrelink, Centrelink can ask the Australian Taxation Office to help them recover the debt. This can be in the form of a garnishee of your tax refund.

What the Prosecution Must Prove

One of the most common Centrelink fraud offence is s 135.2 Criminal Code charge of obtaining financial advantage. To be guilty of this, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. You engaged in conduct i.e. applying for Centrelink benefit payments and giving false information as to your income or failing to update Centrelink about changes in your income or circumstances, and
  2. As a result, you intentionally or recklessly obtained a financial advantage from i.e. you were aware of a substantial risk that you will obtain a financial advantage from Centrelink and having regard to the circumstances known to you at the time, it was unjustifiable to take the risk, and
  3. You knew or believed that you were not eligible to receive that financial advantage i.e. you were at least aware in the ordinary course of events that you were not eligible to that financial advantage or extent of Centrelink payments.

S134.2(1) Criminal Code Obtaining a Financial Advantage by Deception

Another type of Centrelink fraud offences is under s 134.2 Criminal Code charge of obtaining financial advantage by deception. To be guilty of this, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond reasonable doubt:

  1. You intentionally or recklessly obtained a financial advantage from Centrelink e. you were at least aware of a substantial risk that you will obtain this financial advantage from Centrelink, and knowing the circumstances at the time, it was unjustifiable to take the risk, and
  2. A financial advantage resulted from the ‘deception’. e. deception includes intentionally giving Centrelink false information or omitting to update Centrelink if your circumstances of income or relationship status change, and
  3. You were ‘dishonest’: In accordance with standards of ordinary people, such deception was dishonest e. you knew that, in the ordinary course of events that you were not entitled to the financial advantage or the extent of Centrelink payments.

Defences to Centrelink Fraud Charges

If you’re charged with a Centrelink offence, you will be ‘not guilty’ if any of the following defences apply to your case:

  • Mental illness defence, where at the time of the offending period, you were labouring under a mental impairment that caused you to not understand or realise the nature of the offending.
  • The under-age defence, applies if at the time of offending, you were under the age of 10. It can also apply if at the time of offending, you were aged between 10-14 and you were not aware that what you did was wrong.
  • Necessity or duress defences, applies if when committing the offences, you were under a duress or necessity from the circumstances.
  • Honest mistake defence, applies if at the time of offending, you made an innocent or genuine reasonable mistake in such circumstances that led you to hold an honest belief leading to the mistake.

Centrelink Fraud Stories

Example of a charge of obtaining financial advantage under s135.2 includes allegations that you obtained youth allowance payments by understating the amount of money you were earning or Centrelink underestimated income.

Other examples include allegations that you obtained Centrelink carer or disability support allowances from Centrelink by understating the amount of money you were earning.

Example of a case of an omission to disclose a change of income or circumstances to Centrelink is the case of DPP v Poniatowska [2011] HCA 43. Here, Mr. Poniatowska was charged for obtaining financial advantage against s 132.2(1) Criminal Code, for failing to inform Centrelink that he had returned to paid employment and received over $8,000. He argued that he relied on his wife to inform Centrelink of his return to work. He was convicted. The conviction was appealed. On appeal, he was successful and found ‘not guilty’ because, at the time of his change of circumstances of employment, the law did not require a specific obligation for him to disclose such a change in his circumstances. However, if his omission to disclose becomes a legal obligation to disclose by legislation, then he would have been found guilty. As a result of this decision, s66A Social Security (Administration) Act was inserted creating an obligation to disclose to Centrelink of any changes in circumstances that might affect social security payments.

What Time Does Centrelink Close? & Centrelink Number

Centrelink closes at 4:30pm normally. They usually open at 8:30am. However, some Centrelink service centre branches may have different times. Either call the branch or look online. We have compiled a list of some Centrelink branches below outlining their operating hours, address, and contact numbers.

The main Centrelink number is 13 24 68. This will take you to a centralised phone service for Centrelink where they can assist and take enquiries. If you are unsure about which branch to go to, or their operating hours, they can confirm for you. If you intend on making an appointment with Centrelink, then you can also contact the Centrelink number or the contact details on your Centrelink letter which should contain important details and instructions on how to do this.

Centrelink Penrith

Centrelink Penrith
Address 598 High St, Penrith NSW 2750, Australia
Telephone 13 62 40
State NSW
City Penrith
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

The Penrith Service Centre address is 598 High Street, Penrith NSW 2750, which includes Centrelink and Medicate services within the centre. They also have self-service terminals for Centrelink, Medicare, Child Support and ATO services. This centre provides a broad range of services to the community on behalf of the Australian Government departments.

Centrelink Townsville

Centrelink Townsville
Address 307-311 Ross River Road, Aitkenvale Qld 4814, Australia
Telephone 13 24 68
State Queensland
City Aitkenvale
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

Centrelink Townsville is located on 307-311 Ross River Rd, Aitkenvale, Queensland 4814, which is within the Service Centre. The service centre has self-service terminals for not just Centrelink services, but also for Child Support and ATO on behalf of the Australian Government departments.

Centrelink Bankstown

Centrelink Bankstown
Address 2-14 Meredith Street, Bankstown NSW 2200, Australia
Telephone 13 62 40
State NSW
City Bankstown
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed
 Centrelink Bankstown is situated within the Service Centre 2-14 Meredith Street, Bankstown NSW 2200. The Service Centre provides a broad range of services on behalf of the Australian Government departments including Centrelink, Medicare, Child Support and ATO. The Centre also contains self-service terminals for the same services to the community.

Centrelink Byron Bay

Centrelink Byron Bay
Address 1 3 Fingal Street, Brunswick Heads NSW 2483
Address 2 117-121 Tamar Street, Ballina NSW 2478
Address 3 12 Elizabeth Street, Pottsville Beach NSW 2489
Address 4 47 Conway Street, Lismore NSW 2480
Telephone 132 717
State NSW
City Byron Bay
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

Centrelink Byron Bay does not have a Centrelink service centre, but the nearest ones are located in Brunswick Heads, Ballina, Pottsville Beach and Lismore of NSW. The Pottsville Centrelink service centre operating hours are 8:30am-1:30pm Monday to Friday. It is closed on weekends. These service centres also provide self-service terminals.

Centrelink Sydney City

Centrelink Sydney City
Address 1 137-153 Crown Street, Darlinghurst NSW 2010, Australia
Address 2 140 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW 2016, Australia
Address 3 23 Balmain Road, Leichhardt NSW 2040, Australia
Address 4 19-23 Hollywood Avenue, Bondi Junction NSW 2022, Australia
Telephone 13 24 68
State NSW
City Sydney City
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

Sydney city has various service centres that provide Centrelink services for the Sydney community, including Darlinghurst, Redfern, Leichhardt, and Bondi Junction. These service stations provide a range of Centrelink, Child Support, and Medicare services. They also contain self-service terminals.

Centrelink Newtown

Centrelink Newtown
Address 1 140 Redfern Street, Redfern NSW 2016, Australia
Address 2 23 Balmain Road, Leichhardt NSW 2040, Australia
Address 3 314 Marrickville Road, Marrickville NSW 2204, Australia
Address 4 137-153 Crown Street, Darlinghurst NSW 2010, Australia
Telephone 13 24 68
State NSW
City Sydney
Work Hours
Monday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Tuesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Wednesday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Thursday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Friday 8:30 am – 4:30pm
Saturday Closed
Sunday Closed

Centrelink Newtown is situated within various service centres, including Redfern, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Darlinghurst. These Centrelink service centres provide not only Centrelink services, but also Medicate and Child Support. They each also have self-service terminal for people to use.

How to Hide Assets from Centrelink?

Generally, it is illegal to hide assets or money from Centrelink if you are receiving or trying to receive Centrelink benefits in Australia. With that said, there are certain money/expenses or assets that Centrelink do no assess when assessing your Centrelink benefits, including the following:

  • Placing money into superannuation: the superannuation money is not assessed by Centrelink at least until you are of the pension age to claim it.
  • Centrelink benefits can also be either preserved or enhanced if you retire before your pension age and you continue to require Centrelink benefits. This can increase the time you continue receiving those benefits.
  • Centrelink do not assess things such as prepaid funeral and funeral bonds valued up to $13,250; gifting up to a certain limit; money spent on home renovations and maintenance; and money spent on clothes and holidays.

Hiding money for purposes of avoiding a reduction in Centrelink benefits can also be a white collar crime in Australia, which can result in heavy punishment. It is therefore, strongly recommended to be honest and do not get yourself involved in ways on trying to hide assets.


If you’ve been overpaid by Centrelink, you will be required to pay back the money overpaid. This can be paid back in full, by requesting an extension of time, by way of a payment plan in instalments over time, or if you continue to receive Centrelink benefits, Centrelink can deduct an amount from those payments. Failure to pay the money back, can result in Centrelink obtaining a garnishee order to direct your employer, bank or even the ATO to pay money otherwise owed to you. Failure to pay it back can also result in you being prohibited from going overseas, and/or the debt referred to a debt collection agency and interest charged.

Centrelink can now investigate as far back as they want. They can also take legal proceedings against you when they believe there is merit, and they can do this without a statute of limitation. Legal proceedings are usually in the form of commonwealth criminal proceedings by way of a charge. If the Commonwealth charge has a maximum penalty of imprisonment of 6 months or less, or no imprisonment penalty, then there is a 1-year statute of limitations that applies. This means they cannot prosecute you after one year has passed if you fall in this category. Otherwise, there is no limit.

A Centrelink investigation can take between weeks to months, depending on the complexity and period of suspected offending. Centrelink will only investigate if suspicion arises. A suspicion may come about from an anonymous dob in, or it may arise as a result of a data match discrepancy between other organisations, such as your bank and the Australian Taxation Office and/or your social media. Centrelink can also direct your employer to disclose certain financial information concerning you.

Centrelink have various methods of investigating, including, data match with other institutions such as the Australian Taxation Office, your employer, and your bank to find out your financial position. Centrelink’s power extends to reaching out to all these organisations when investigating suspected Centrelink fraud. Centrelink may also view your social media such as Facebook posts. Following their investigation, Centrelink will decide on whether or not to take further action. This may mean that they will request for you to attend their office or via phone call for a voluntary interview.

It is also not uncommon for a Centrelink representative to attend your home to ask questions. Get legal advice before taking your next steps if you are approached for an interview.

You will usually not be aware when Centrelink initially commence an investigation on your financial position, however, you can receive indications that point to the conclusion that you are being investigated if you have been contacted by Centrelink requesting a voluntary interview. Or if Centrelink attend your home to ask questions. Centrelink will never disclose who gave a tip-off to initiate an investigation if someone did. If ever requested for an interview, generally you can refuse. If a Centrelink officer attends your home, you can refuse entry and you can politely ask them to leave.

You will not necessarily go to jail over a Centrelink debt. However, Centrelink may recover the debt in a number of ways, including a garnishee order directing the ATO, your bank or your employer to pay the money they would normally pay you to pay Centrelink. Another way Centrelink may recover the debt is by outsourcing a debt collection agency to recover it by legal means, by taking you to court. If you committed a Centrelink fraud, then you can go to jail if the money you have received is a significant amount and over a long period of time. There are alternative options to jail, including an Intensive Correction Order that is available for the court to impose when sentencing.

Any overpayments received from Centrelink must generally be paid back either in full or by instalments. Failure to pay back Centrelink can result in being prohibited from leaving Australia, legal proceedings by way of a garnishee order directing your employer, bank or ATO to pay your money to Centrelink directly.

Normally Centrelink debts are not waived. You may be able to ask for special consideration by applying for a waiver. Centrelink may consider this by assessing the circumstances of the debt and amount of the debt. For example, Centrelink may decide to waive your debt if the debt arose due to an administrative error or if there are ‘special circumstances’. You may do this online by going to the service centre Centrelink website and follow the prompts.

You can report someone lying to Centrelink by completing an online form via the online service centre Centrelink website. It is important to be as specific as possible when answering those questions in order for Centrelink to be able to properly investigate effectively. Centrelink will not keep you updated on the progress of their investigation if they decide to do so.

You can certainly report someone to Centrelink anonymously. The most common and easiest way to do this is online, through their website. There is a specific form you will be required to complete, which requests specific details. As a result, Centrelink will never disclose the identity of the person who reports to them. This is always kept confidential.

Lying to Centrelink can amount to a criminal charge. There is an obligation to tell the truth and be honest to Centrelink when claiming benefits. If as a result of being untruthful intentionally or recklessly, resulting in you receiving financial benefits you are otherwise not entitled to, then you can be prosecuted in a criminal court.

Centrelink itself does not have the power to send you to jail. It is a court that has the power to do this, and only in appropriate situations of a case. If Centrelink refer your case, after its investigation, to the prosecuting authority (CDPP), then the CDPP will formally charge and prosecute, taking you to court. At Court, if you plead guilty, or are found guilty after a hearing, then the Judge or Magistrate will determine an appropriate penalty to impose. The penalty will depend on the amount of money, sophistication, planning, period of offending and whether any money has been repaid. Based on all this, the court can decide not to send you to jail.

If you are found to be cheating Centrelink by receiving more money than entitled, then Centrelink will consider referring you to the relevant authorities for prosecution. The prosecution authority is the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution (CDPP) who prosecute on behalf of Australia. If they get involved, they will arrest and charge you, requiring you to appear in court and face the allegations. Depending on the charge, most Centrelink charges carry heavy penalties of imprisonment and a conviction. There are other options to avoid jail, and it is recommended to get legal advice. Centrelink may also decide not to refer your case for prosecution, especially if the money is repaid.

Centrelink can check your bank accounts. It can do this as part of the process of their investigation powers in data-checking with other organisations, requiring those organisations, including banks, to disclose your financial details for them to assess whether or not you have been receiving more money than you’re entitled to.

Centrelink can go back as many years as is considered relevant by them to conduct their investigation as to whether or not you have been illegally receiving more money from them than you should or are entitled to.

Centrelink conducts a data-match process as part of their investigation if they suspect you have committed a Centrelink fraud. This includes cross-checking with the Australian Taxation Office. Centrelink can do this with various organisations including your employer.

Getting caught committing a Centrelink fraud can result in Centrelink either issuing a warning and taking no action provided the money is returned, or they may refer it to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) who will investigate and charge you. This will result in a Court Attendance Notice being issued to you requiring you to attend court with an outline of the exact charge(s). Sometimes before this happens, you may be invited to give an interview to Centrelink, or by the Australian Federal Police. It’s important to get prompt and reliable legal advice before making your next move. The potential consequences can result in a criminal conviction and imprisonment.

Centrelink do not normally tell you if they are investigating you. The initial phases of their investigation will be discreetly conducted by cross checking your financial information from your bank, ATO and even employer. Nor will they disclose what caused them to initially investigate you. You will likely find out that Centrelink is investigating you at some later stage of the investigation.

You can remain anonymous when reporting someone to Centrelink. This can be done online, over the phone or by even attending a Centrelink office. Centrelink take this very seriously and it will likely result in an internal investigation.

Centrelink are able to cross-check your bank account. This is part of their data-match investigation processes which they have access to at their disposal. They are then able to use this information in assessing whether or not you have committed a Centrelink fraud.

Published on 30/09/2021

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AUTHOR Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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