It can be confronting being charged with Centrelink fraud, especially where it has the potential to negatively impact your personal financial situation.
However, in many cases, our highly skilled fraud lawyers can help you easily resolve Centrelink matters at an early stage without going to court.
Even if you do end up going to court, our highly experienced criminal lawyers can help you avoid a conviction by persuading the judge to grant you 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
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 enlist the help of our highly experienced fraud lawyers to fight the charges in court.
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 lawyers are experienced in winning Centrelink fraud cases. In every case, we push to have the charges dropped by writing to Centrelink or the DPP highlighting any problems with the prosecution case.
We frequently win cases in this manner – saving our clients the time and expense of going to court.
Where the prosecution refuses to drop the charges, we will fight hard to have the charges dismissed in court by raising any defences to the charges, such as:
- Where you were suffering from a mental illness at the time of the offence
Our lawyers have won hundreds of Centrelink fraud cases and have the knowledge and experience necessary to give you the best possible defence against the charges.
If you agree to the charges against you, you can elect to plead ‘guilty.’ You will then proceed straight 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.
Although you face a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment, our lawyers will fight to have these charges dealt with by way of a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order.’
This means that you will be found guilty of the offence; however there will not be any charges recorded on your criminal record.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers® has a high success rate of obtaining non conviction orders, even in complex fraud cases.
Generally, the court will also order you to repay the debt unless you are successful in asking Centrelink to waive or write off the charges. This will usually only occur if you can show that you are suffering from severe financial hardship, or where the person who is the subject of the debt has passed away.
The various forms of penalties that the court can impose include:
- Discharge Without Conviction
- Good behaviour bonds
- Community Correction Order
- Intensive Correction Orders
Our expert lawyers will fight hard in every case to obtain the most lenient penalty possible by highlighting any facts and circumstances that will assist your case.
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 Sydney Criminal Lawyers®?
Being convicted of a Centrelink fraud offence has the potential to have a long-term impact on your life, as well as your personal financial situation.
However, with the right lawyers on your side, you may be able to avoid a conviction altogether – leaving you free to get on with your life.
At Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, we have years of experience defending our clients in numerous Centrelink fraud matters.
Our dedicated lawyers fight hard in each and every case to get the best possible results for our clients – in many cases we have been able to get our clients ‘non conviction orders,’ where no conviction is recorded on your criminal record.
Our lawyers can also give you expert advice and assistance where Centrelink has begun an investigation against you – for example, we can accompany you to any interviews with Centrelink to ensure that they do not ask you any questions that may incriminate you.
We will also seek to have the charges dropped at an early stage by writing to the prosecution to explain your side of the story – in some cases, this may mean that you will avoid court altogether.
So don’t delay – call the Centrelink experts today on (02) 9261 8881 and find out how we can help you beat your Centrelink fraud case.