Centrelink cheat in court for $12,000 fraud

Michael John Neal outside Ipswich Magistrates Court.
Michael John Neal outside Ipswich Magistrates Court. Inga Williams

A LOWOOD man claimed more than $12,000 in government benefits he was not entitled to because he said he didn't have enough money to pay his bills.

At Ipswich Magistrates Court last week, Michael John Neal pleaded guilty to three counts of obtaining financial advantage for self.

Commonwealth prosecutor Siobhan Stoddart said Neal had been under-declaring his income for about 18 months.

The 53-year-old had successfully applied for Newstart Allowance on January 13, 2010, on the basis he was unemployed.

However Neal had already found paid work at Fernvale Landscape Supplies about five days earlier.

For the next 39 fortnights, Ms Stoddart said Neal intentionally filed false declarations to claim benefits he wasn't eligible for. As a result he was overpaid $12,724.21

Ms Stoddart said Neal's gross income during the offending period had been calculated at $48,639.66.

The discrepancies were uncovered by data matching between Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office.

Defence lawyer Yassar Khan said Neal's offending had been motivated "by need rather than greed."

Mr Khan said his client had been enduring financial struggles and used the falsely claimed benefits to help pay his bills.

He said Neal's partner had died in 2010, which had a negative effect on his client's mental attitude.

Ms Stoddart said Neal had started to pay back the money by withholding income from his social security benefits.

He has so far repaid $130.87.

Ms Stoddart said it was important to deter people from committing the same crime, because it was easy to do and involved a system that relied on honesty.

Magistrate Virginia Sturgess said Australia's social security system was there to help genuine people in need.

"There isn't an unlimited pool of money, the financial support is contributed from your fellow community members," she told Neal.

"Each dollar you take is a dollar less for those in genuine need."

Neal was sentenced to complete 200 hours of community service.

Topics:  centrelink editors picks ipswich magistrates court

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