Welfare cheats on the Sunshine Coast have been put on notice.
Welfare cheats on the Sunshine Coast have been put on notice. DAN PELED

Welfare cheats on notice as taskforce starts crackdown

WELFARE cheats on the Sunshine Coast are being warned they could face criminal charges as fraud investigators begin targeting the region this month in search of those rorting the system.

Taskforce Integrity is a joint operation run by the Department of Human Services and Australian Federal Police, which operates around Australia in identified non-compliance hotspots.

More than $43 million in debts have been raised in the three years the taskforce has been running, including more than $7 million from operations in Queensland.

As part of its focus on the Sunshine Coast, letters are being sent to about 11,000 welfare recipients in Maroochydore, Caloundra and Kawana Waters, encouraging them to ensure that their eligibility details are up-to-date with the department.

Minister for Human Services Michael Keenan said those who have failed to keep the department informed of any changes should do so immediately, rather than waiting for investigators to discover their mistake.

"This operation is not about penalising people who make genuine errors," Mr Keenan said.

"Its focus is on enforcing the law and targeting those who deliberately set out to commit welfare fraud.

"Australia has a strong social safety net, but it is vitally important that we protect its integrity to ensure it remains sustainable for those who rely on it."

Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace said the two main things people failed to keep Centrelink informed about were changes to their work arrangements or their relationship status.

"In one case from the Caboolture area, a customer failed to declare they were living in a marriage-like relationship for more than five years and was found to owe over $120,000," Mr Wallace said.

"In another case, a couple who had been living in a marriage-like relationship for approximately four years was found to owe approximately $140,000."

Member for Fairfax Ted O'Brien said welfare cheats needed to remember who they were stealing from.

"People who cheat the system think they're taking from the Government but they're actually ripping off hard working Aussies," Mr O'Brien said.

"It's taxpayer money which allows us to maintain a generous welfare system and we can't have that safety net compromised by greedy individuals.

"Australians are fair people, we want to help each other out of the tough times, but it's a slap in the face for tax payers when people deliberately take more then they deserve."

Mr Keenan encouraged community members to assist the taskforce by passing on information about those who are doing the wrong thing.

"Tip-offs are an important source of information for investigators and it is not uncommon for cheats to be caught out as a result of information passed on by their own families or neighbours," Mr Keenan said.

Further information about Taskforce Integrity and how to report suspected welfare fraud is available on the Department of Human Services website at www.humanservices.gov.au/fraud.