Robyn Michelle Herbert
Robyn Michelle Herbert

Centrelink fraudster and mother-of-two lands in prison

A MUM who ripped off nearly $40,000 from Centrelink in an ongoing fraud has swapped her family home for a jail cell.

A Bundaberg magistrate told mother-of-two Robyn Michelle Herbert doing jail time was an appropriate punishment for her $39,319 fraud.

It was a tearful and somewhat disbelieving Herbert who hugged her mother in the courtroom after being sentenced to an eight-month jail term.

Her Legal Aid lawyer Thomas Bray did his best in his submission to Magistrate Belinda Merrin to keep his client out of jail.

Herbert, aged 36, must serve two months of this sentence before being released.

The court also heard how she tried to obstruct investigators from speaking to her Bundaberg employer.

Herbert pleaded guilty in Bundaberg Magistrates Court to obtaining financial advantage for herself in what is a Commonwealth offence.

Federal prosecutor Lauren Archer sought a jail term for the serious fraud that had been committed over two-and-a-half years when Herbert was receiving a sole parent allowance.

Ms Archer said Herbert committed the fraud between June 2012 and December 2014, during which time she had been employed full-time and was receiving Centrelink benefits that she was not entitled.

Herbert failed in her legal obligation to report any change in circumstances or income.

Ms Archer said Herbert earned an income of more than $111,000 but "declared nil" to the government department.

In that time she was paid benefits of $47,050 but as only entitled to $7051.

She was overpaid $39,319 in a series of 66 fortnightly payments by Centrelink.

The offences were detected in 2016 through data matching done by the Australian Taxation Office.

"She says the reason was that she attempted to report on the mobile app but it didn't work and it was too hard to contact the department by phone," Ms Archer said.

Herbert had also denied the substantive allegations.

Ms Archer said Herbert also intercepted calls to her employer, saying that Herbert "tried to interfere with the investigation".

Of the $39,319 overpaid to her, Herbert has since repaid $4950, which has been achieved by withholding monies from her family tax benefit.

Ms Archer said no other payments had been made from her income and Herbert now owed $34,448 and sought a Reparation Order that she pay this.

She said Herbert also had previous overpayments.

Mr Bray said Herbert raised her two children, saying that their father's child support payments are $4000 in arrears.

He said any time in jail would result in the loss of her job.

Acknowledging a jail term was well in range, Mr Bray said Herbert "comes to court with her eyes wide open".

Mr Bray denied she interfered with the investigation, saying Herbert worked in a small office and would answer the phone, and did not immediately tell her employer.

"It was a lack of cooperation with the investigation Mr Bray," Ms Merrin said.

Mr Bray attempted to raise an issue that Herbert had received an additional punishment through an alleged imposition of a 10% recovery fee by the department.

However, Ms Archer said it was not in relation to this debt and may include other debts Herbert had incurred, and was between her and Centrelink.

"What did she use the money for Mr Bray," queried Ms Merrin.

"She says it was not a situation where she was living a lavish lifestyle. The cost of living," Mr Bray said.

"She was raising two children with no support from their father."

Ms Merrin said she had told investigators she could not use the app to report and that it was "too much bother" to attend at Centrelink.

"It's public money you have unlawfully been enriched with," Ms Merrin said.

"The (welfare) system relies on the honesty of people in receipt to disclose their obligations."

Ms Merrin told Herbert that while she was mindful of the impact it would have on her children, a Justice of the Supreme Court had found that "an offender cannot shield themselves by the hardship it causes others".

Herbert was convicted and sentenced to eight months jail, and ordered to be released after two months.

She will then be released on a $2000 own recognisance to be of good behaviour for two years.

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