More than 70 people a day are being caught rorting the welfare system by falsely claiming to be single in order to qualify for higher Centrelink payments.
During the 2017-18 financial year, 26,346 individuals failed to declare that they were in a relationship, resulting in more than $61 million in overpayments that now have to be repaid to the Commonwealth.
While some cases involved genuine mistakes or oversights, many were deliberate acts of fraud that were detected by members of the Department of Human Services’ specialist fraud and compliance teams.
Since July 1, 2016, operations run by the teams have helped generate more than $2.1 billion in savings for taxpayers.
Human Services and Digital Transformation Minister Michael Keenan said the figures should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of defrauding the system that the risks of getting caught were very high.
“Stealing from the welfare system is not a victimless crime,” Mr Keenan said. “You are stealing directly from pockets of Australian taxpayers and robbing the wider community of much needed funds that could be spent on other essential services such as roads, schools and hospitals.
“You also need to know that if we catch you, you will be made to pay the money back and you could also end up with a criminal record, or worse, in jail.”
Just last month, a 76-year-old woman was sentenced to almost three years behind bars after a Victorian court convicted her of fraudulently claiming $287,000 in benefits. The woman claimed she was single in order to receive a higher rate of the age pension while in a relationship with a man who was worth millions.
People failing to declare that they are in a relationship is one of the main ways that welfare recipients end up with debts, along with failing to properly declare their income.
“Australia has a strong welfare system that ensures those who genuinely need our help can get a fair go,” Mr Keenan said.
“But those who fund the system – taxpayers – also have a right to a fair go, which is why we will continue to take strong action against those who are doing the wrong thing.”
The best way to avoid getting into debt is to alert Centrelink immediately to any changes to your personal circumstances that could affect your eligibility for payment.