A woman from Lithgow in NSW has been charged after allegedly posing as a volunteer firefighter to claim relief funds of more than $190,000.
Detectives from the Chifley Police District began making inquiries after multiple submissions were allegedly made between Friday January 2020 and Saturday 20 June, each applying for the bushfire volunteer firefighter payment.
Accused submitted 522 claims online
NSW Police say they will allege that the 49-year-old female submitted 522 claims online and was paid for 34 of them, a total of more than $190,000.
She was apparently attempting to take advantage of a Federal government program to provide support to volunteer firefighters who were out of pocket over the 2019-20 fire season due to loss of work income, or through costs they personally incurred while fighting the Black Summer fires
The government approved tax-free compensation payments of up to $300 per day, with a total cap of $6,000. The payments were not means tested.
Detectives searched accused’s home
“The [accused] woman is not – and never has been – a volunteer firefighter,” NSW Police said in a statement.
As part of their investigation, detectives searched a home in the Central Tablelands town of Lithgow this week and arrested the woman at the scene. Several items – including clothing, electrical items and identification – were also seized.
The woman was taken to Lithgow Police Station where she was charged with 34 counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, and four counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by attempted deception.
PM launched program in late 2019
She was granted strict conditional bail to appear before Lithgow Local Court on Thursday 28 January 2021.
“This is not about paying volunteers. It is about sustaining our volunteer efforts by protecting them from financial loss,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said when he launched the programme in December last year.
“While I know RFS volunteers don’t seek payment for their service, I don’t want to see volunteers or their families unable to pay bills or struggle financially as a result of the selfless contribution they are making.”