GRAN THEFT RORTO
Great-nanna admits $300k welfare fraud to cash in on $3.8m estate inheritance
A LEOPOLD great-grandmother has admitted defrauding taxpayers of almost $300,000 as she bids for a much bigger windfall from a deceased estate.
Noel Jennifer Newling told Centrelink for 21 years that she was single so she could claim a widow’s allowance and larger payments from the age pension, Geelong County Court heard yesterday.
She told the agency she lived with her former next-door neighbour, share trader Michael Stansfeld, but was not in a relationship with him. But when Mr Stansfeld died in 2016 leaving most of his $3.8 million estate to charity, Mrs Newling owned up to the relationship.
The court heard the woman, now 76, was unaware of Mr Stansfeld’s wealth until he died, and has now challenged the will in the Supreme Court, saying they were partners.
Commonwealth prosecutor Dallas Henderson said the will referred to Mrs Newling as Mr Stansfeld’s ‘caretaker’, allocating her $50,000, a $185,000 property in Camperdown and a $34,000 car.
She also continues to live, rent-free in a property at Leopold owned by the estate.
The ‘caretaker’ description was also used in forms submitted to Centrelink by Mrs Newl- ing. Mrs Newling wrongfully accepted more than $287,000 in welfare payments between 1995 and 2016, pleading guilty to counts of defrauding the Commonwealth and dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception yesterday.
The money was made up of falsely claimed widow allowances and the difference between the age pension she received for being single, as opposed to what she should have got as Mr Stansfeld’s partner.
The court was told she tried to negotiate a deal with the agency to pay back the money after the man died, seeking indemnity against further penalty and the chance to clarify the status of their relationship.
A year later, with the Supreme Court action afoot, her lawyers wrote to Centrelink, admitting the fraud, saying Mr Stansfeld was an abusive partner.
Judge Susan Cohen pointed out Mrs Newling had contradicted herself, and needed to disown the Centrelink payments to mount the case she was Mr Stansfeld’s partner and entitled to more from his estate.
With what she’d already got from the estate, Mrs Newling could have comfortably started paying back the money owed to Centrelink, the judge said, but the court heard just $1500 had so far been recouped.
Ms Henderson argued Mrs Newling was acting for “greed not need”, saying the $280,000 rip-off undermined the welfare system.
“That injury is upon all taxpayers,” she said.
Defence lawyer Michael Vines said Mrs Newling’s willingness and ability to repay the debt in reasonable time needed to be considered.
“There is a real and meaningful prospect the amount of overpayment will be attended to, not on the drip, not going on forever,” he said.
While the offence would usually demand an immediate prison term, Mr Vines argued her age, clean record and frank admissions should help her avoid time behind bars.
Mrs Newling will be sentenced on Tuesday.