Australia

How grandma ripped $100k off Centrelink

A woman pocketed more than $100,000 of Centrelink money she wasn’t entitled to after lying about having a job.

Mary Irvine, 56, was on the disability support pension because of severe asthma, but still got a job as a personal care worker in aged care, the County Court of Victoria heard on Tuesday.

Judge Carolene Gwynn sentenced her to a three-year good behaviour bond, with two years’ prison if she commits an offence – and she also must repay the money.

“(Your) motivation was more need-based than one of sheer greed, yet that does not excuse your offending,” she told Irvine.

Judge Gwynn said Irvine told police her then-husband spent the fortnightly allowance.

She said a character reference provided to the court said Irvine was intermittently seen in tears over worry she wouldn’t be able to make rent or pay bills.

The $108,816 was racked up over two periods totalling five years, resulting in two charges of dishonestly obtain financial advantage by deception to which Irvine pleaded guilty.

Irvine told the court she believed her granddaughter had been correctly filling out the income reporting form to Centrelink for her – but Judge Gwynn said, “I simply do not accept that explanation.”

Judge Gwynn said it was not in dispute that Irvine’s severe asthma, which would frequently hospitalise her for lengthy periods, was a real disability.

Her crime – which was “not highly sophisticated” – was failing to tell Centrelink she was working shifts in aged care.

“(Recipients are) not eligible for DSP payments if they work more than 30 hours per week,” she said.

The mother-of-four and grandmother-of-15 defrauded Centrelink by not reporting her income for about 10 months in 2012 and four-and-a-half years from 2014 to 2018.

She had previously had jobs in an abattoir and a fish ‘n’ chip shop before completing a certificate to be a personal care worker in her 40s, a job she “seemed to relish”, but maintained a “tendency towards hopelessness and feeling overwhelmed”.

The prosecution argued “sustained and deliberate welfare fraud” should result in imprisonment.

But Judge Gwynn found “there was a place for both mercy and leniency” in Irvine’s case.

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