If Centrelink believes that you may have broken the law, they will investigate further. Centrelink has very broad powers to demand information from any individual or organisation. For example, they can require your bank or your employer to give details of your financial transactions, or any other personal details that are relevant to your Centrelink entitlements. They also routinely match their records with other organisations including the tax office. This is called data matching.
Using social media to investigate
Centrelink may also access social media, eBay or any other publicly available information when they review your current or past entitlements. If they think it is possible you are a member of a couple when you are claiming to be single, they may try to access information about you from social media sites such as Facebook.
If you do not want your information to be available to the public, including to Centrelink, it is important to check your privacy settings on sites like Facebook and Instagram. The increase in the use of social media has made investigations much easier for Centrelink.
You may be asked to attend an interview
If these investigations show that what you have told Centrelink about your income or family situation do not match up with your bank account details, your tax returns or other information, they may ask you to attend a Centrelink office for a voluntary interview. You do not have to go to this meeting. You will not be penalised if you don’t go.
Anything you tell Centrelink goes on your file. It is very important that anything you tell Centrelink in person, in writing or by phone is accurate because Centrelink is likely to check the information by contacting other sources.
If you get a Centrelink payment, a Centrelink officer may interview you to:
- review your entitlements to Centrelink payments
- investigate an incorrect payment or overpayment
- investigate whether you have committed fraud.
Things Centrelink may ask you about include:
- whether you or your partner are working or receiving any income
- the arrangements for care of your children
- whether you are a member of a couple.
If you answer, your answers could be used to prove that you:
- are not entitled to a payment
- have been overpaid
- have committed a criminal offence.
If a Centrelink officer starts asking you questions about your circumstances, or if they ask you to do a formal interview, you have the right to:
- get legal advice before deciding whether to answer their questions
- ask them to write down the questions for you or send them to you in a formal notice so you can have a chance to get legal advice and decide whether you want to answer the questions
- have another person present if you choose to answer their questions – including an interpreter if you need one
- be given a brochure about your rights – the brochure should include the Centrelink officer’s name and phone number.
A Centrelink officer does not have the authority to advise you that you will not face criminal fraud charges if you ‘tell them everything in full’.
Centrelink may also visit your home unexpectedly, but this is not common. They may do this if they are already investigating and believe that you are being dishonest.
If a Centrelink officer comes to your home, you:
- do 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 you to do a formal interview.
If you receive a home visit, you have the right to:
- know the reason for the visit – ask the Centrelink officer about any information they have received (if there has been a ‘tip-off’ they will not tell you who made it)
- tell them to leave your home immediately, or at any time after you have let them in (unless they are with a police officer who has a warrant to enter your home).
Disclaimer: The material in this print-out relates to the law as it applies in the state of Victoria. It is intended as a general guide only. Readers should not act on the basis of any material in this print-out without getting legal advice about their own particular situations. Victoria Legal Aid disclaims any liability howsoever caused to any person in respect of any action taken in reliance on the contents of the publication.
We help Victorians with their legal problems and represent those who need it most. Find legal answers, chat with us online, or call us. You can speak to us in English or ask for an interpreter. You can also find more legal information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au
Reviewed 07 April 2022