Pensioners could be Centrelink’s next target: leaked documents

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Leaked documents obtained by Guardian Australia show that pensioners could be robo-debt’s next target, under a proposed expansion of Centrelink’s automated debt collection program.

The confidential documents seen by Guardian Australia reveal that thousands of pensioners and other sensitive welfare recipients could be targeted in order for the Morrison Government to achieve its promised $2.1 billion in budget savings.

The documents stamped ‘PROTECTED CABINET’, show that if over-65s and other welfare recipients weren’t targeted, the robo-debt scheme would fall $600 million short of its required budget savings unless it is expanded to include recipients originally quarantined from data matching.

Those who were originally quarantined include pensioners aged 65 and over, people living in remote areas, people who are homeless and those with disabilities.

“Estimated savings over the forward estimates cannot be achieved without undertaking sensitive cohort reviews,” states the submission.

The documents say that the department needs to undertake an extra 1.6 million income reviews over the next three years to reach the promised savings, including 350,000 debt-recovery reviews among ‘sensitive’ groups.

If Government Services Minister Stuart Robert and the Social Services Minister Anne Ruston support the plan, the cabinet will next month consider a “staged approach” to the expansion, say the documents.

A spokesperson for Mr Robert said, “The Government is not considering any proposal to commence online compliance for vulnerable Australians”, and would not elaborate on whether over-65s were being considered.

The proposal seen by Guardian Australia says the Government would conduct 40,000 income reviews for people aged 65 to 74 this financial year, checking for welfare overpayments from business income, bank interest and pay-as-you-go income, as well as other pilot programs for sensitive people and those living in remote areas.

The proposal, which would not require legislation to implement, has renewed debate over the controversial robo-debt program about to be examined by the Senate.

“Mr Robert must now categorically, with no weasel words, tell the Australian people all these groups will continue to be protected from the cruel menace of robo-debt,” said Labor’s government services spokesman Bill Shorten.

During the robo-debt scandal in 2017, the Government had initially excluded this ‘sensitive cohort’ of welfare recipients.

If this proposal goes ahead, and according to the documents it has “broad support”, 240,000 older Australians, 40,000 people in remote areas and 70,000 others previously considered vulnerable by Centrelink would be subject to the debt recovery program.

The department estimates about $430m would be raised from those aged 65 and over.

The submission is purportedly expected to be presented to the Cabinet in the 2019-20 mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.

When approached for comment on the possibility of the program being extended, Mr Robert’s spokesman said: “Income compliance for our targeted welfare system is not new. It has been in place since the 1980s. In fact, online income compliance was ramped up with data matching under the former Labor Government in 2011.”

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 74
  1. 0

    Go ahead. But unless they can prove that I owe them money I won’t be paying up

    • 0

      patti; if you have them, you will have to quickly close all your financial accounts first as they will just steal from them !!

    • 0

      Easier said than done. I’ve just gone through months of hell and the loss of nearly $200 per fortnight because centrelink said thry had no proof of a small pension I’d been receiving from overseas and therefore owed them money for overpayment. I contact the pension department of the country involved and they sent me a schedule of payments since 2007 when y late husband and I qualified for this. I remember going to the local Centrelink office and getting the original letter stamped as read, but I cannot lay my hands on it, I possibly threw it out after sorting my late husband’s personal affairs and downsizing. I haven’t a leg to stand on, so have to make do with this smaller pension and pay back the overpayment in installments.

    • 0

      Nanna75 I had the same problem with Centrelink after my hausband died, they said I hadn’t notified them about his super but like you I clearly remember talking to them about it. I did query it and they halved the amount owing which I paid back in instalments.
      Don’t give up without a fight, some of the staff are very good and see your side.

    • 0

      Not so simple, patti! They don’t prove anything – you are assumed guilty until YOU prove that you are innocent! I am sure Nanna75’s case is very typical of how this is going to hit pensioners if they sit back and accept this robo-debt crap.

    • 0

      I receive small pension for my work in USA many yeas ago and I declared also USA report to Centrelink of any increase on the US pension – it is all recorded on my Gov. records. In some of your cases need to be sure the O/S pension is reported and also ensure the foreign country have reciprocal pension arrangements. If they do not you must reported and send then a copy of the receipt or bank transfer into your account (Remember they are checking your account’S) otherwise they will find out and trouble begin with or without the F… Robo system —— so be careful of this seat warmers bastards that have no brains to find another alternative to comply to the election promise ….bastards

    • 0

      The Senate had recommended that the Robo-debt system be suspended however the Govt has ignored it, raising the question of the relevance of the Senate itself!
      BTW, Labor designed this system, while Shorten was there as Minister for Fin Services and Super – he didn’t even stop the Super tax rorts by the wealthy! Typical Labor-Liberal Tag Team actions are being played out, as has happened for all Age Pension rules.

      All those who have not supported Universal Age Pension can now see why it is important to get these nasty Liberal / Labor Govts out of the Retirees lives by scrapping all current Age Pension rules and implement Universal Age Pension with NO tests and based only on Age and Residency.

    • 0

      Agree with GeorgeM esp. implement Universal Age Pension with NO tests

  2. 0

    perhaps they should put robodebt onto the corrupt politicians and how they rip of the tax payers with there perks like $ 180.00 for a meal allowance this is downright corruption and the people that control this and allocate this much to these politicians need controlling as well. we could save millions if past politicians had all there benefits cancelled and if the recent mod was allocated more reasonable perks they would not have to chase the pensioners for the few dollars they need

  3. 0

    target the vulnerable is easy & is so gutless & corrupt from this government but will give back billions of $ to the wealthy in tax cuts.
    Let’s hear the oppositions voice to robo debt being shut down until it’s fixed & processes put in place that any debt that is sent out is fully accounted for & explained instead of the unaccountability & constant excuse that no debt breakdown needs to be given.
    I hope those selfish & uneducated voters that re-elected this unworthy government are the first to get a robo debt, Karma & sweet justice.

    • 0

      Overpayments to pensioners, politicians and anyone else living off the government teat should be recovered. If robodebt facilitates repayment of these monies then all the better. Innocent mistakes should be treated respectfully but deliberate fraud and abuse of the government largesse should be punished to discourage others tempted to rip off the taxpayer.

  4. 0

    So when do they look at the biggest rorters of all?
    Why are we paying for people who are NOT near pension age to get a pension AND still work with NO repercussions at all.
    Why are we paying ex PM’s travel, drivers, offices and staff years AFTER they have left office?
    They could save a fortune, EACH and EVERY year by cutting off THESE government cheats without targeting normal, everyday pensioners!

    • 0

      You can Add Governor Generals and Ex. Most have been State Governors before so accumulative Pensions.
      Free Logging and Board, Butlers,chefs,wait staff and House Keeper, cleaners for a start.
      There is no Accountability For Those who Self Govern and Demand these services outside there Enormous Rumination Packages.

    • 0

      Absolutely, all politician’s benefits should be scrapped once they retire, except maybe an allowance for ex-PM’s to show their faces as needed. Also, NO benefits should be payable if they take up any new job – too much of double and triple dipping.

  5. 0

    A full pensioner couple can earn $150 P/W until pension cut . A POLITICIAN can retire on large pension then return to work as an adviser job earn $100.000 and still receive full pension ONE rule for them one rule for pensioners
    So you can see why its totally unfair

    • 0

      One gets welfare the other one doesn’t. Big difference.

    • 0

      No VeryCaringBigBear, how many times has it been stated here that the pension is not welfare.

    • 0

      Why isn’t it classed as welfare, big bear, the same taxpayers provide it. Because you call something by a different name doesn’t mean it’s different.

    • 0

      Actually politicians contribute a mandatory amount of 111/2% of their salary to their pensions and they are a part of their salary package. They do NOT have to to apply for it at pension age nor is it asset tested. It is a very different ‘animal’. And just for good measure, they are not eligible for a pension unless they have completed 8 years as a member or senator and they cannot apply for it until they are 60. Mr Howard increased the preservation age in 1997. This is a superannuation fund and NOT a Government pension like the aged pensions or even the DSP or any other form of welfare payment, and in that respect is no different to any other super fund.

      And just because it has been ‘stated here that the pension is not welfare’ does not make it so.

    • 0

      Neil, you are right, however the situation is worse actually – Bronnie Bishop & Ruddock get over $250K, Abbott over $200K, Swan & Macklin over $200K, Julie Bishop over $200K and as she announced recently has got two high-paying jobs over and above that, all of them having new jobs with NO impact on their totally undeserved pensions.

      KSS, you are clearly an ex-politician or have family from that profession to even try to justify these massive self-designed rorts. Also, you have tried to confuse people with partial facts.
      Pollies contribute only 5.34% to super (old scheme prior to 2004) after 18 years of service – when they get ENTITLED to 75% of their salary as pensions! Their preservation age is only being gradually increased from 55 to 60 by 2025, with those born before July 1960 (most of the oldies) continuing to have preservation age as 55. Too many such disgusting, preferential rules for them which other people cannot avail of for pensions.
      Thanks to Mark Latham, Howard was forced to stop this massive rort for NEW politicians only from 2004, however in another fraud on the people, the OLD politicians of pre-2004 have continued to avail of the massive benefits of their old scheme of massive defined benefits pensions (50-75% of Salary based on 8-18 years service respectively – see cases of Abbott, etc mentioned above), when the new MP contracts since 2004 should have meant that all old scheme benefits should have been scrapped immediately from 2004.

      The only fair action now is to SCRAP all Politicians Special Pensions, and if they qualify they can apply to Centrelink for Age Pensions exactly on the same rules as anyone else.

    • 0

      “The only fair action now is to SCRAP all Politicians Special Pensions, and if they qualify they can apply to Centrelink for Age Pensions exactly on the same rules as anyone else.”
      Hear bloody here.

    • 0

      In discussions about the welfare state the term welfare is used very broadly to refer to government-funded services, such as education and health, as well as means-tested payments, such as Newstart Allowance and the Age Pension. As Luke Buckmaster from the Australian Parliamentary Library writes:

      At its broadest, welfare may refer to ‘well-being, happiness; health and prosperity (of a person or a community et cetera)’. It may also refer to arrangements aimed at ensuring or bringing about well-being. Thus, a useful definition of welfare is that it is that which ‘refers to the well-being of individuals or groups and, by implication, those measures which can help to ensure levels of well-being through provision of education, health services, managed housing, and social security benefits’. The term ‘welfare state’ refers to arrangements where provision of such measures is principally the responsibility of the state. Specifically, it refers to those policy arrangements supporting the substantial expansion of state responsibility for welfare in many countries following World War II. [2]

      Governments generally do not use the broad category of welfare state when reporting spending.[3]

    • 0

      GeorgeM the problem is your assertions about me are uneducated, unfounded and just plain wrong. And for the record I was not justifying anything. Simply pointing out that politician’s pensions are not the same as the age pension and are infact directly contributed to by the individual MP and are a part of their salary package. There are relatively few remaining under the óld’ rules and most would now be contributing the 111/2%.

      For your information a preservation age of 55 is NOT limited to politicicans at all. My own super preservation age is/was 55. And before you jump to more wrong conclusions, I am not a public servant either and never have been.

      Attacking me will change nothing.

    • 0

      Ha, ha, KSS, did not like being called out? FYI, I am highly educated (so you are wrong there too) and have been known to hit the nail on the head regularly!
      Everything I stated is correct about the undeserved politicians special pensions (all there if you search on the internet), and only a person with direct interest / a motive to maintain those will defend them – so why do you defend the indefensible?

      Bottom line – the only fair action now is to SCRAP all Politicians (past & present) Special Pensions, and if they qualify they can apply to Centrelink for Age Pensions exactly on the same rules as anyone else.

  6. 0

    $600 million tells me a lot of people are rorting welfare.

    • 0

      Like the Robodedt letters, this figure is pure fantasy, a figure plucked out of thin air – or more accurately, figures that some actuary or algorithm has come up. Targeting seniors is simply a way for the Govt to reduce pensions by stressing the elderly into an early grave. I saw the stress and worry my elderly aunt went through. I fought on her behalf, she could not have handled it at all. I admit I was a tenacious tiger with a bone and would not give in, and after 8 months they agreed it was in error. It is totally and morally wrong to say “you owe this amount” without giving a breakdown of that amount. No business would be allowed to do it, why is the govt? I gave up my casual job when I went on the Aged pension because Centrelink made so many errors, I could not trust them in years to come to hit me with a Robodedt.

    • 0

      Unfortunately, Carebear, their are a lot of folk like you who read something and run with it without having the moral integrity to check if it is true.

  7. 0

    Get it through your minds a PENSION is not WELFARE.

    WELFARE is what politicians get, no wonder every one is clammering to become prime minister even for a few days cause the GRAVY TRAIN really gets going.

    Have a read and weep

  8. 0

    I am fed up with the way successive Australian governments have tightened the screws on every aspect of our lives, from health to education, from pensions and welfare payments to security and freedom of speech and activities. I really used to love living in this country but now I think I am ready to give it away. There is too much hatred being fostered, too much government restriction, too much of the ‘them and us’ attitude. Governments are always actively looking to cut services and yet pay for politicians and executives of corporations increases with monotonous regularity. The Australian government sets a terrible example to the Australian people of how to treat your less wealthy neighbours. They ignore the cries for help from our Pacific Island Neighbours. They spy on our Timorese friends to get an unfair advantage. Then they prosecute whistleblowers who dare to expose their crimes. They treat refugees inhumanely and yet allow the US to unload suspected criminals on us. What sort of example are they giving to our future generations. I think George Orwell would feel like a gifted prophet if he were her now.
    I love Australia but I hate what it is becoming and I despair to think that we the people vote for these moral bankrupts and allow them to continue to oppress the have nots while cosying up to the haves in our community. Perhaps I am too old and no longer fit into this community.

  9. 0

    Nothing must get in the way of their surplus, even CEOS are being read the riot act today, wonder how well that will go down with business and shareholders.

    • 0

      Surely if CEOs deserve the riot act to be read, it should be. How is that a bad thing?

    • 0

      Well KSS the govt wants CEOS to hold back on giving out share dividends and share bybacks and use that money to invest in technology, how well do you think that will go down with people who rely on the share dividends to live?

  10. 0

    Well we have another couple of years of this and they wont change they wont a surplus and as long as it don’t touch them they will attack and you that voted them in cop it and its no use crying cos I am not and expect the worst soon he is seeing one of his masters this week

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