Teacher avoids jail term for welfare fraud

An Illawarra school teacher ripped off taxpayers to the tune of $16,000, lying about his income to cash in on Centrelink benefits, Wollongong Local Court was told.

Shaun Thomas Huntley was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service for the fraud yesterday, narrowly avoiding a lengthy jail term.

The 39-year-old, who pleaded guilty, incorrectly reported his income to Centrelink for nearly nine months between August 2007 and September 2010, triggering a $16,592.50 overpayment of his Newstart Allowance.

Huntley failed to declare any income for five months and only partially declared his earnings for another four months, despite getting more than $48,000 from casual teaching.

He completed several forms between June 2007 and July 2009, stating he understood his obligations to declare his earnings, yet failed to declare any of his income on 18 occasions.

The significant overpayment was triggered in 2010 by a data-match with the Australian Taxation Office.

Huntley was interviewed in May 2011 and admitted to lying about his earnings.

He pleaded guilty to nine counts of receiving a financial advantage from the Commonwealth.

Defence solicitor Greg Murphy told the court Huntley had paid some of the money back, but still owed more than $12,000.

Mr Murphy said his client had been working part-time at the time of the fraud and had been regularly "called in", creating some confusion in reporting his income.

The court heard Huntley had a long history of cannabis use but was now seeing a psychiatrist, was in a stable relationship and was remorseful for his actions.

Magistrate Michael Stoddart ordered Huntley to repay the outstanding money and pay legal costs.