Being charged with Centrelink fraud can be a distressing experience, especially when it has the potential to negatively impact your personal financial situation.
However, with the assistance of our expert lawyers, you may be able to easily resolve Centrelink matters at an early stage without even going to court.
Even if you do end up going to court, our experienced criminal lawyers can help you persuade the court to deal with the matter leniently by way of a section 10 dismissal or conditional release order – where you are found guilty of the offence, but no conviction is recorded on your criminal record.
There are many different forms of Centrelink fraud, including failing to report your income, reporting incorrect earnings, failing to report a change in circumstances and incorrectly declaring a relationship in order to derive extra benefits. However, every case of Centrelink fraud shares common elements. The information provided below deals broadly with Centrelink offences in general.
Your Options in Court
Pleading Not Guilty
From time to time we all make mistakes; however it can come as a shock to receive a ‘Notice of Overpayment’ from Centrelink, or a ‘Court Attendance Notice’ from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for mistakenly reporting incorrect circumstances or income to Centrelink.
In other cases, Centrelink or the Department of Public Prosecutions may make a mistake by erroneously beginning proceedings against you in relation to alleged Centrelink fraud.
In these cases, you can choose to plead ‘not guilty’ and fight the charges.
To be found guilty of Centrelink fraud, there are two essential elements that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That your actions or omissions allowed you to obtain a financial benefit from Centrelink
- That you knew that you were not eligible to receive those financial benefits
This means that in cases where you made an innocent mistake and received a payment or benefit that you otherwise would not have received, you will be found ‘not guilty’ of Centrelink fraud.
Our criminal defence team regularly represents clients in Centrelink fraud matters and can advise you of the steps you can take to protect your innocence.
Unlike other lawyers who may urge you to defend the matter in court, we always strive to have the charges dropped before a court date by writing to the prosecution and raising any issues with their case.
This means that many of our clients are spared the expense and inconvenience of attending court to fight the charges.
Should the prosecution refuse to drop the charges, we can assist you by presenting your side of the story in court, along with any evidence to show that your actions were unintentional.
Our knowledgeable experts can also help you raise a defence to explain your actions, for example:
If you agree to the charges against you, you can elect to plead ‘guilty.’ You will then proceed to sentencing, which is where the court determines the penalty that you will receive.
In some cases, it may be beneficial for you to plead guilty to the charges as soon as possible, as it can result in a more favourable outcome in your case. This is because pleading guilty at an early stage in the proceedings will show the court that you are sorry for your actions.
If you’re thinking about pleading guilty to your Centrelink matter, you may be wondering what kind of penalties you could face.
The maximum sentences for the most common Centrelink offences are as follows:
- 10 years’ imprisonment for the offences of obtaining property or a financial advantage by deception (s134.1(1) and s134.2(1) of the Criminal Code),
- 10 years’ imprisonment for the offence of general dishonesty causing a loss (s135.1 (5) of the Criminal Code), and
- 12 months’ imprisonment for an offence of obtaining financial advantage (s135.2(1) of the Criminal Code).
It is important to bear in mind that these are maximums, and that the court has any of the following available to it:
More Information on Centrelink Fraud
What are the stages in a Centrelink Prosecution?
In many cases of alleged Centrelink fraud, the issues can be resolved at an early stage without having to go to court. There are several steps in a Centrelink prosecution before the matter reaches court:
- Notice of Overpayment: This is the first stage in any matter involving a Centrelink overpayment. Centrelink will send you a letter stating that you have been received some benefit or payment that you are not entitled to. You will generally be asked to pay the money back within 28 days; however, if you are experiencing financial hardship, you may be able to arrange to repay the amount over a longer period of time. Alternatively, you can arrange for Centrelink to deduct amounts from your regular payments to repay the debt. They may also deduct money from your bank account. However, even if you repay the debt immediately, Centrelink may still begin an investigation against you where they believe that you have acted fraudulently.
- Investigation: If you’ve received a substantial overpayment, or where Centrelink believes that you intentionally committed fraud, it may begin an investigation into the matter. This may occur even if you respond to the Notice of Repayment by repaying the money. Centrelink has broad powers to obtain information about you from various sources, such as your employer, your bank and the Tax Office, however they will not be able to obtain money from your lawyer.
- Interview: If you are being investigated by Centrelink, they may ask you to attend an interview to ask questions to determine whether you have acted fraudulently. Because these types of questions may incriminate you, it’s important to seek advice from a lawyer before taking part in a Centrelink interview. Whether or not you decide to take part in an interview, Centrelink may pass your matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to charge you with a criminal offence.
- Prosecution by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions: If Centrelink decides to pass your matter to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, they may decide to begin criminal proceedings against you. You will receive a Court Attendance Notice asking you to attend court to respond to the charges.
Why Choose Sydney Criminal Lawyers®?
Going to court can be nerve-racking, but having a strong and compassionate legal team behind you can make the experience significantly easier to deal with.
Here are 12 reasons to choose our multi-award winning legal team:
- Proven Track Record of Exceptional Results – Sydney Criminal Lawyers® consistently achieves outcomes which are in the highest percentile of the Judicial Commission’s sentencing statistics for criminal cases. Our legal team devises effective case-strategies and fights hard to have cases dropped entirely or charges downgraded – saving clients the time, expense and stress of a defended hearing or jury trial. Where cases nevertheless proceed, our lawyers have an outstanding track record of winning defended Local Court hearings, and complex jury trials in the District and Supreme Courts.We also consistently win appeals in the District and Supreme Courts (including the NSWCCA) after clients have received unsatisfactory results with other law firms in the lower courts.We are one of the few firms to achieve successful criminal law appeals in the High Court of Australia.Where our clients wish to plead guilty, we frequently achieve ‘dismissals’ and ‘non convictions’ in cases where other lawyers have advised there is no chance of doing so.
- Highest Level of Client Satisfaction – We have the best and most comprehensive client review record of any law firm in Australia. Regular communication, accessibility and quality service are our team’s highest priorities. We are committed to thoroughly explaining all steps involved in the criminal law process, providing regular updates throughout the proceedings, and making ourselves accessible and responsive.We are passionate about providing an exceptional level of service to our clients, and we fight hard to achieve optimal results in the shortest period of time.
- Australia’s Most Awarded Criminal Law Firm – We have received more awards and accolades than any other criminal law firm in Australia. Our team has been awarded “Criminal Defence Firm of the Year in Australia” in a number of prestigious and competitive awards programs for several years running. The awards recognise our exceptional track record of results, our outstanding client service, the high level of satisfaction we achieve, the affordability of our services and our overall excellence.
- Fixed Fees – We want our clients to know exactly how much their cases will cost from the very start. That’s why we were the first criminal law firm in Australia to publish ‘fixed fees’, back in 2004. We offer fixed fees for most types of criminal cases and services.Our fixed fees apply to a range of Local Court cases such as drink driving, drug possession, fraud, common assault and AVOs, and also specific services such as prison visits, bail applications, appeals and defended hearings.Unlike many other law firms, our fixed fees are published on our website – which ensures transparency and certainty.
- Free First Appointment – For those who are going to court, we offer a free first conference of up to an hour with one of our Senior Criminal Defence Lawyers. We also offer a free first conference to those who have received an unsatisfactory result after being represented in court by another law firm, or after representing themselves, and wish to appeal.
- Specialist Lawyer Guarantee – We guarantee that only lawyers with substantial criminal defence experience will work on your case and appear for you in court. This ensures our clients receive the highest quality representation from an experienced, specialist criminal lawyer.
- All NSW Courts – From Bombala to Broken Hill, our lawyers appear in courts throughout New South Wales – and across Australia for Commonwealth cases. And we offer fixed fees for most criminal and traffic law cases throughout the state.
- Accredited Specialists –
Our entire firm is exclusively dedicated to criminal law – which makes us true specialists. All of our lawyers have years of experience representing clients in criminal cases, and our principal has been certified by the Law Society of NSW as an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist since 2005. An ‘Accredited Specialist’ is a lawyer who has practised for at least 5 years in a particular field of law (such as criminal law), has passed a rigorous assessment process conducted by the Law Society of NSW, and has been selected by the Specialist Accreditation Committee of the Law Society as an expert in the field. Accredited Specialists are required to undertake more training each year than other lawyers and must be successful in having their accreditation renewed every year. Specialist Accreditation is the mark of a true specialist.Our firm’s specialist experience ensures you receive the best possible result, whatever your criminal law case may be.
- Results-Focused Law Firm – Our team is passionate about achieving results, and unlike many other law firms, our lawyers do not have monthly financial ‘budgets’ to meet. The absence of budgets means our lawyers are entirely focused on achieving optimal results in the shortest space of time; whether by getting charges dropped or downgraded at an early stage or having cases ‘thrown out of court’. Not having budgets also means our lawyers are not under pressure to engage in unscrupulous practices such as unnecessarily adjourning cases or ‘overcharging’ clients – which, sadly, is a common complaint against many other lawyers and law firms.No budgets encourages regular consultation between lawyers within the firm – promoting an ‘open door’, team environment where lawyers bounce ideas off one another, formulate case strategy together and benefit from each other’s specialised experience, methods, techniques and insights.The result is a firm which delivers optimal outcomes in the shortest time periods, at the least expense and stress to our clients.
- Team of Lawyers Behind You – Our clients benefit from the pool of knowledge that only an extensive team of experienced criminal defence lawyers can provide. Our lawyers regularly consult one another to stay ‘ahead of the pack’ in the ever-changing field of criminal law – constantly devising, refining and implementing specialised techniques which ensure our clients achieve the best possible outcomes. A team approach is particularly important when it comes to serious criminal cases such as murder, commercial drug cases, serious and sexual assaults, large-scale fraud, robbery and other ‘indictable’ cases.In such matters, clients reap the benefits of several lawyers devising and executing case strategies which maximise the chances of having cases dropped or downgraded at an early stage, or ‘thrown out of court’ – often saving clients a great deal of cost, time and anxiety.
- Familiar with Magistrates and Judges – Each of our lawyers appears in court on a daily basis, and has done so for years. We have therefore been able to develop an understanding of, and rapport with, magistrates and judges in Sydney and indeed across the state. Our team’s extensive experience before the courts ensures your case is tailored to the specific nuances of individual judicial officers, maximising the likelihood of a favourable result.
- Convenience – We have offices in locations across the Sydney Metropolitan Area and beyond, including:
- the Sydney CBD, on Castlereagh Street, directly opposite Downing Centre Court,
- Liverpool, directly opposite Liverpool Local Court, and
- Parramatta, near the justice precinct.
We offer free parking at our Sydney CBD and Liverpool locations, and all of our offices are close to train stations and bus terminals.
For those who are unable to attend our offices, we offer conferences by telephone, Skye and FaceTime anywhere around the world.
If you are going to court and wish to arrange a free first consultation, call our 24 hour hotline on (02) 9261 8881 or send us an email at email@example.com.