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Responding to Welfare Fraud: The Australian Experience

NCJ Number
Tim Prenzler
Date Published
111 pages
This overview of welfare fraud in Australia addresses its prevalence, offender characteristics, financial losses, types of fraud, and trends over time, as well as types of prevention, detection, and criminal justice responses.
Following a description of the aims of welfare systems in Australia, the vulnerability of these systems to fraud is analyzed. This section of the report also describes the problems in measuring the prevalence of welfare fraud and available data are presented on the size and characteristics of welfare fraud internationally. Data from the agency responsible for operating Australia's welfare system indicate that welfare fraud convictions are occurring at relatively stable rates at just over 3,000 cases per year, representing 0.04 percent of all welfare recipients; however, the loses in these cases are approximately $40.5 million annually. Of particular concern is that women compose two-thirds of defendants. This report also analyzed the potential contributions of situational crime prevention in countering welfare fraud. Centrelink, the agency responsible for managing Australia's welfare system, appears to be in step with best practices internationally for preventing and detecting welfare fraud as well as recovering losses. Strategies include strict eligibility tests and enforcement procedures, large-scale compliance reviews, extensive data-matching, a fraud tip-off line, covert optical surveillance, improved identity verification procedures, loss recovery procedures, and staff professionalization. The final section of this report proposes more systematic research and evaluation of the measures being used to prevent, detect, and prosecute welfare fraud. One suggestion is to establish a Research and Fraud Prevention Unit within Centrelink. A number of strategies for reducing welfare fraud are recommended, including an increase in the number of compliance reviews and efforts to increase early detection. Alternatives to welfare should also be considered as a key means of reducing the welfare poverty trap and reducing opportunities for fraud. 18 tables, 11 boxes, 11 figures, and extensive references