Suspected fraudsters reap $1M from Centrelink
NEARLY $1 million in debts is owed to Centrelink from suspected fraudulent Townsville welfare recipients.
Services Australia, the department responsible for Centrelink, is investigating 78 potential false welfare claims in Townsville, or $931,000 in debts over the past three financial years.
In the 2018-19 financial year there were six case referrals to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and $195,327 owed.
It was a major decrease in suspected stolen money from the 2016-17 financial year, which saw nine case referrals and $444,481 worth of fraudulent claims.
The 2017-18 financial year saw seven people referred, a total of 22, and a total of $291,492 identified.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert launched a digital forensics laboratory last year to help tackle fraud.
"Anyone who takes money they aren't eligible for must repay it. Cases of serious and deliberate fraud are referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal charges," Mr Robert said.
"The Government takes fraud extremely seriously and have sophisticated, robust measures in place to safeguard taxpayer funds.
"While most people are honest and do the right thing, those who deliberately set out to defraud the system will face serious consequences."
Australian Council of Social Service senior adviser Charmaine Crowe said the amount of money "owed" may be a result of misreporting as opposed to fraud.
"As at September 2019, there were 38,366 people receiving an income support payment in the local government area of Townsville," she said.
"If people incur an income support debt, it generally happens when they try to estimate their earnings for the fortnight they receive income support.
"Most people have not yet received their pay slip when they need to report, which means they have to guess and this often leads to debts."
Suspected welfare fraud can be reported via the "Reporting Fraud" page on the Services Australia website at servicesaustralia.gov.au/fraud, or by calling the Australian Government Services Fraud Tip-off Line on 13 15 24.