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News: Single mums figure big in $80m South Australian welfare fraud - report

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  • News: Single mums figure big in $80m South Australian welfare fraud - report

    SOUTH Australian welfare recipients have ripped off nearly $80 million from Centrelink in the past financial year and most of the fraudsters are women.

    An Australian Institute of Criminology report has found women were convicted of two-thirds of fraud cases.

    The single-parenting payments - 84 per cent of which go to mothers - were the most common benefits defrauded.

    This was followed by the unemployment allowance, disability pension, and youth allowance.

    The age of defendants ranged from early 20s to the late 80s.

    Welfare recipients in this state owe $78 million in fraudulently claimed and incorrectly overpaid benefits.

    The figures come amid significant cuts by the Federal Government this month to welfare payments received by single parents.

    The level of welfare payments was raised by Federal Families Minister Jenny Macklin, who earlier this month controversially claimed that she could live on the $35-a-day unemployment benefit.

    Welfare agencies say mothers are trying to protect their children from poverty by rorting the system and the temptation to cheat will grow as payments fall.

    From January 1, single parents of children aged eight and over were shifted from parenting payments to Newstart, reducing their welfare income by more than $100 a fortnight.

    Uniting Communities spokesman Mark Henley said data showed single-parent families were suffering the highest level of financial stress.

    "The group in Australia facing the pinch the most on average are single parents and they are predominantly - though not exclusively - single women," he said.

    "No parent wants to see their kid sick or hungry and if they think they can rort the system a bit or steal, the temptation is higher when they see kids suffering."

    Mr Henley said Uniting Communities did not condone welfare fraud but it understood the financial pressure some people were under.

    The Australian Institute of Criminology report says the level of welfare fraud nationally "remains at a stable rate" and comes at a "high financial cost to Australians".

    He said "the phenomenon of a stable rate of proven fraud supports the case for more effective prevention measures."

    The report also said welfare fraud convictions in Australia have averaged about 3,000 per year worth $40.5 million annually.

    Mr Prenzler said the high representation of females among fraud cases "suggests the need for research on the causes and consequences of welfare fraud committed by women in the context of their lower socioeconomic position in Australian society."

    He said welfare fraud could be reduced by creating a dedicated Research and Fraud Prevention Unit within Centrelink.

    A government spokeswoman said "a dedicated team focused on fraud prevention and early intervention" was in place and "we are putting the emphasis on debt and fraud prevention as well as early intervention."

    Of the $78 million owed by welfare recipients in this state only $43 million of this money is being recovered under repayment plans by Centrelink.

    This is because welfare debts due to overpayment can be written off, a Federal Government spokeswoman said.

    This happens "where a debt arises due to administrative error, where there are special circumstances", or debt recovery is not "cost effective", she said.

    The Centrelink customer "debt" level recorded across the nation exceeded $1 billion last financial year.

    In the past two financial years the Government's Adelaide Investigations Team has investigated 744 fraud cases.

    Of these 272 were serious enough to be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.