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Centrelink investigations

Information about the key types of Centrelink investigations into clients.

If Centrelink is concerned that a person who receives Centrelink payments may be getting more money than they are entitled to they may investigate. Centrelink may believe that someone has not been honest with them because of routine data matching checks or due to getting a tip-off from a member of the public.

Centrelink will usually investigate further. They have very broad powers to demand information from any individual or organisation. For example, they can require a bank or employer to give details of a person's financial transactions, or any other personal details that are relevant to their Centrelink entitlements. They also routinely match their records with other organisations including the tax office. This is called data matching.

See Centrelinks's automated debts.

Using social media to investigate

Centrelink may also access social media, eBay or any other publicly available information when they review a person's current or past entitlements. If they think it is possible that person is a member of a couple when claiming to be single, they will probably try to access information about them from social media sites such as Facebook.

See Social media and Centrelink.

Home visits

Centrelink may also visit a person's home unexpectedly, but this is not common. They may do this if they are already investigating and believe the person is being dishonest.

If a Centrelink officer visits, the person:

  • does not have to let them in (unless they are with a police officer who has a warrant)
  • can arrange to answer their questions at another time.

Centrelink can ask you questions informally, or they can ask to do a formal interview.

When they go to a client’s home

Centrelink officers must show their official identification card when they arrive at a clients home, and wear it at all times. They must tell the client the reason for the visit.

They are not allowed to enter a home without the occupant’s consent and they must leave if they are asked to. The person being interviewed has the right to ask an officer to leave at any time.

Centrelink officers can ask questions but they cannot force anyone to give information unless they send a written request. Centrelink policy also states that clients may ask Centrelink to send the questions to clients in a written notice that the client will be asked to answer (usually within 14 days) in an interview or in writing.

See Centrelink clients' rights.

Being asked to attend an interview

If these investigations show that there is a discrepancy between what the person has told Centrelink about their income or family situation and their bank account details, tax returns or other information, they may ask that person to attend a Centrelink office for a voluntary interview. There is no obligation to go along to this meeting. If the person chooses not to attend, Centrelink may decide to call a person in for a formal recorded interview. This will depend on the evidence they have gathered.

Anything a person tells Centrelink goes on their file. Therefor it is very important that anything they tell Centrelink in person, in writing or by phone is accurate because Centrelink is likely to check the information by contacting other sources.

If someone gets a Centrelink payment, a Centrelink officer may seek to conduct an interview to:

  • review the person's entitlement to Centrelink payments
  • investigate an incorrect payment or overpayment, or
  • investigate whether a person has committed fraud.

Things Centrelink may ask about include:

  • whether the person or their partner are working or receiving any income
  • the arrangements for care of children
  • if the person is a member of a couple.

It is a good idea to get legal advice before speaking to Centrelink.

If a Centrelink officer starts asking questions about a person's circumstances, or if they ask to do a formal interview, the person has the right to:

  • get legal advice before deciding whether to answer their questions
  • ask them to write down the questions or send them in a formal notice so they have a chance to get legal advice and decide if they want to answer the questions
  • have another person present if they choose to answer their questions – including an interpreter if they need one
  • be given a brochure about their rights – the brochure should include the Centrelink officer’s name and phone number.

A Centrelink officer does not have the authority to say that the person interviewed will not face criminal fraud charges if they ‘tell them everything in full’.

Interviews with third parties

As well as interviewing the client, Centrelink may also contact third parties to try to find out whether that person is entitled to the particular benefit they are claiming. They may check details such as tenancy, relationship status and employment.

Centrelink can also contact banks, employers, Australia Post, phone companies, motor transport authorities, and government departments, such as immigration or tax offices. There may be data matches between Centrelink and other agencies.

Centrelink officers are not allowed to collect information (without client consent) from:

  • children
  • lawyers
  • doctors, and
  • counsellors or other professional advisers.

There is no obligation for these third parties to provide answers to questions unless they are given formal notice from Centrelink.

These formal written notices must:

  • state what information is required
  • under which law the information is sought, and
  • give the person or organisation 7 days notice to comply.

Tip offs

Centrelink is often given information by a member of the public about someone who they suspect is getting Centrelink benefits that they are not entitled to, such as a person who is in a de facto relationship or working while receiving unemployment benefits.

Such information can often lead to an unexpected visit from Centrelink officers, or a request to come to an office for an interview.

People who supply this kind of information have the right to remain anonymous. Centrelink officers will usually tell clients about the information they received, but they will not disclose who has given this information.

If a person suspects who the informant is, and believes that they are motivated by malice, they should make Centrelink aware of their suspicions so that they can choose to take allegations less seriously.

More information

Legislation

Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)

  • Part 3 Div. 2—information privacy principles
  • s. 16B—personal information in records
  • s. 80P—authorisation of collection, use and disclosure of personal information

See Privacy Act 1988 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)

  • s. 192—general power to obtain information
  • s. 195—obtaining information to verify claims

See Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 (Cth)(opens in a new window).

Reference

Services Australia

Guide to Social Security Law
  • '6.6 Conducting a member of a couple review'

See Services Australia—Guide to social security law(opens in a new window).

Updated