Helen Mannion leaves Ipswich Magistrates Court after admitting to Centrelink fraud.
Helen Mannion leaves Ipswich Magistrates Court after admitting to Centrelink fraud. Ross Irby

Why a woman who defrauded $59k in welfare won't be jailed

A ROAMING nurse who ripped Centrelink off $59,000 in welfare benefits she was not entitled to will not spend time in jail because she is 78 years old with no criminal history.

Helen Diana Mannion, an aged pensioner from Wynnum, had worked out of Darwin, Tiwi, Western Australia and South Australia in the past decade.

She went before Ipswich Magistrates Court on Commonwealth fraud offences, pleading guilty to four counts of obtaining financial advantage for herself.

Federal prosecutor Christine Wilson said the fraud offences took place between September 2009 and November 2011; October 2013 and March 2014; December 2011 and September 2013; and between April 2014 and May 2015.

Some of the offending involved Mannion receiving the aged pension but then failing to advise Centrelink of changes in her circumstances when she worked.

She did not correctly tell the department of her income with omissions in her information that meant, at times, she had not been eligible to receive the pension.

Ms Wilson said that while receiving payments Mannion worked for four different employers including a nursing agency as an enrolled nurse and home care disability support worker.

Ms Wilson said Mannion grossed $187,412 in the relevant time and this averaged out at $1283 per fortnight. She only declared 32per cent of her income.

This resulted in Mannion being overpaid $59,458.

The facts in the case against her showed she incorrectly reported her true income.

At times she did declare her new employer but was not required to report regularly but there had been an obligation to disclose any changes in her circumstances.

Mannion made 12 declarations of Nil income when she actually was earning and made 50 false under-declarations of income.

Ms Wilson said Mannion's offending was detected during a data match by the Australian Taxation Office in September 2012.

She had repaid $5950, money taken from her pension.

The last repayment was made two years ago on November 28, 2016. And Mannion still owes Centrelink $53,507.63.

Ms Wilson said the offences took place in just under six years.

Defence lawyer Matthew Fairclough said Mannion became bankrupt in November 2016 and Centrelink wrote to her and did not have to make further repayments until she was a discharged bankrupt.

"It appears they did not chase her during the bankruptcy period," Mr Fairclough said.

"She is very elderly with some health issues that has impacted on her ability to finalise these matters.

"She expresses genuine regret at her conduct."

Mr Fairclough said Mannion has a good work record as a nurse and worked in state health systems.

"She has a desire to repay the money she owes.

"A fraud involving this sort of money usually attracts a prison term but no two cases are identical."

In his submission on penalty, Mr Fairclough conceded a jail term of 18 months to two years was open to the court but the "unusual circumstances" and particulars of her age must be considered.

When magistrate Donna MacCallum inquired as to an explanation on why Mannion offended, Mr Fairclough said he could not take that very far but there was clearly been some under-reporting.

"She's professed some confusion about reporting. She accepts she knowingly obtained the benefit," he said.

"I do not stand here and maintain it was all a big mistake."

Ms MacCallum said Mannion, at the age of 78, has no criminal history and was entitled to benefit from her plea, although no significant reason was offered as to how her offending occurred.

There was no suggestion she used the monies to fund a lavish lifestyle but the amount of money involves was significant.

Mannion was sentenced to 18 months jail, immediately released to a $3000 good behaviour bond for three years. She was ordered to repay the outstanding money.

Mannion tried to walk to the magistrate's bench so she could hear the sentence, saying she was deaf.

A special court hearing aid was fetched but this did not work.

Mannion was allowed to come closer as Ms MacCallum explained the sentence, saying; "stay out of trouble for three years and you won't go to prison". "I'm willing to pay it back," Mannion said.

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