Centrelink Fraud

Commonly known as Centrelink Fraud, it is considered to be a Commonwealth offence to obtain a financial advantage, by deception, against a Commonwealth entity or department. The following may be examples of obtaining a financial advantage by deception:

  • deliberately claiming welfare benefits in 2 or more names;
  • continuing to receive benefits for dependents no longer in your care;
  • misleading Centrelink in relation to the existence or extent of a disability;
  • lying about your relationship status or living arrangements;
  • providing false information to Centrelink (e.g. falsifying income records); or
  • forging documents to receive welfare benefits.

If you simply fail to notify Centrelink of changes in your circumstances, you could be charged with the lesser offence of obtaining financial advantage (with no deception or dishonesty).[1] This offence carries a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment.[2]

This article will consider the offence of ‘obtaining a financial advantage by deception’.

Elements of the Centrelink Fraud Offence

In order to establish the offence of ‘obtain financial advantage by deception’, the Prosecution must prove the following elements beyond reasonable doubt, namely that you:

  1. obtained a financial advantage;
  2. the advantage was obtained dishonestly;
  3. the advantage was obtained from a Commonwealth entity.[3]

You must have had the intention to dishonestly obtain a financial advantage from the Commonwealth entity in order to satisfy the first element. ‘Dishonestly’ means to obtain the financial advantage with knowledge that you were not entitled to receive it or by forming an intention to deceive.

‘Obtain’ means to take ownership, possession or control of the Commonwealth entity’s property.  ‘Financial Advantage’ simply means that you benefited financially (e.g. received welfare payments).

Commonwealth entities include Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office.

Possible Penalties for Centrelink Fraud

The maximum penalty if you are found guilty of obtaining a financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity by deception is 10 years imprisonment.[4] However, the Court will consider a variety of circumstances when making any sentencing determinations.[5]


You will have a defence to your charge if you did not intend to obtain a financial advantage. For example, if you mistakenly obtained the financial advantage by incorrectly filling in a form or providing incorrect information to Centrelink. You can also argue honest and reasonable mistake, such as if you genuinely believed that the fact (alleged to be dishonest) was true and correct.

You will also have a defence if no financial advantage was obtained. For example, if providing incorrect employment details did not result in you receiving a higher amount than you would have been entitled to. You will also have a defence if you obtained the financial advantage without deception. This may occur where you did not know that you were receiving more money under a welfare payment than you were entitled to.

You may also have a factual dispute to your charge, such as if specific elements of the Prosecution’s case are incorrect. There are other defences available, such as Duress and mistaken identity.

If you have been charged with obtaining a financial advantage from a Commonwealth entity, it is imperative that you contact an experienced legal practitioner as soon as practicable so that the best defence for your case can be identified.

[1] Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 135.2(1).
[2] Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 135.2(2).
[3] Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 134.2(1).
[4] Commonwealth Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) s 134.2(1).
[5] McGuiness v R [2008] NSWCCA 80.

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