Audit office calls out accuracy and timeliness of Centrelink payments

New figures reveal Services Australia may be failing in its obligations to vulnerable Australians – while simultaneously giving itself top marks for performance.

An audit conducted by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) into the accuracy and timeliness of welfare payments has found as many as one in five recipients are being paid incorrectly.

The report also accuses Services Australia, the government agency that runs Centrelink, of failing to pay recipients on time in one in four cases. Centrelink delivers social security payments and services to more than 5 million Australians.

While Services Australia reports that it is paying recipients accurately 98.9 per cent of the time, the ANAO found that number was actually 81.4 per cent.

The Guardian reports that of that figure, the report found 13.5 per cent had been overpayments while 5 per cent represented underpayments to welfare recipients.

Overpayments and underpayments

In the 2021-22 financial year, there was $7.2 billion in overpayments – representing 6 per cent of total payments – while there was $514 million in underpayments.

“The department’s and Services Australia’s processes for monitoring, reporting and continuously improving payment accuracy are partly effective,” the report reads.

“Weaknesses were found in … identifying underlying causes of payment inaccuracies, ensuring data accuracy and completeness, and quality assuring reported results.”

The ANAO found the reason for this discrepancy was due to Services Australia’s unusual method of reporting. The agency removes any incorrect payments that come as a result of the end recipient of the payment. For example, if a recipient failed to update Services Australia about a change in circumstances and an incorrect payment was made, it won’t be counted toward the final incorrect payment figure.

But in a reply to the audit, Services Australia noted it would not be adding recipient-based mistakes to its report of mistakes as it is largely out of its control.

Audit office recommendation

The ANAO wants Services Australia to develop a “reliable and unbiased” performance measurement system, saying it needs to include not just statistics within its control, but also those “within its influence”, such as recipient fraud or mistakes.

There were issues not just with amounts paid to recipients, but also with the timeliness of the payments. The ANAO found Services Australia’s processes for monitoring and improving the timeliness of payments was also only “partly effective”.

“The department’s oversight of payment accuracy and timeliness has not been proactive and strategic,” the report says.

“Assurance arrangements for payment accuracy and timeliness are not sufficiently objective and independent, and shared risks relating to payment accuracy and timeliness are not being managed collaboratively.”

The accuracy of Services Australia’s systems and processes have been under increased scrutiny of late, after the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme fiasco, which found debts had been incorrectly issued to welfare recipients based on flawed internal automated systems.

Services Australia head Hank Jongen offered this explanation in response, claiming Services Australia’s accuracy and timing of payments has been improving (according to their own standards).

“We welcome the Australian National Audit Office’s (ANAO) report on the accuracy and timeliness of welfare payments, he said.

“We’re committed to providing the best possible service to Australians and ensuring they receive the right payment at the right time. As we stated in our response to the ANAO the way we measure our success differs from the methodology used by the ANAO.

“Services Australia uses two measures, administrative correctness (previously called payment correctness), and payment accuracy. These measure different things. Administrative correctness shows how successful we are at getting payments right when customers provide all the correct information, and update us in a timely manner when their circumstances change.

“Services Australia’s administrative correctness has remained steady at 98-99 per cent for the past 10 years. Payment accuracy measures customer reporting errors as well as administrative errors.

“We’ve increased payment accuracy rates over the last two years, with an accuracy rate of 94.03 per cent in FY2022-23, up from 93.26 per cent in FY2020-21. The introduction of pre-filled employer income has been a significant step in improving payment accuracy.”

He says the welfare system is vast and complex, but that they are taking the ANAO recommendations seriously.

“We operate in a highly complex environment, delivering payments that involve the assessment of different eligibility criteria and requiring varying levels of urgency,” he says.

“We take this complexity into account when monitoring payment timeliness and developing new payment timeliness measures. We’re constantly working to improve payment timeliness across all payments. 

“We’re committed to working with DSS to ensure our timeliness measures remain relevant and reliable measures of performance.”

Have you ever received the wrong payment? Are you usually paid on time? Let us know in the comments section below.

Also read: September 2023 Age Pension payment rates revealed

Brad Lockyer
Brad Lockyer
Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.


  1. If you are interested: my daughter was seperating from her defacto husband around December 2922. During this time she neglected to update her Family Income. She was receiving Family Tax, Child Subsidy, Rent Assistance Parenting Payment Couple. I know it sounds a lot but the actual rates because of their combined income was not very high. Rightfully, but unfairly Centrelink stopped ALL payments. No phone call to see if she was still alive, nothing! My daughter is a Filipina and is very hard headed and will not ask for help as she is ashamed she cannot do the required reporting herself. I was made a Nominee for her and hence applied for the entitlements she was due. OMG what a twisted system Centrelink has. They should be closed down and start again. Even when calling various Centrelink numbers from overseas ans at my expense to sort out Centrelinks downfalls staff often said “I fell sorry for your daughter bue this is the way it is” There are so many errors they make. Like at one stage tellinh her she did not have a daughter OMG Anyway I am starting to feel physicall sick now so that is enougn of this rant. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell a bit if our story to someone who seems to cre. Thanks Denis Kelly

  2. Welcome recommendations.
    I am a new Aged Pension recipient and I have no idea how my part pension has been calculated. It is such a complex and involved process. I believe we should be able to receive documented details of exactly how pensions and other Centrelink payments are derived and calculated on an individual basis. Further, I believe this information should be given with each determination. I have had soooo many problems over the years with errors being made and other inconsistencies in their processes. Many of those you deal with have no idea and show no empathy or understanding of one’s personal circumstances. They should be ensuring one can maximize/optimize? benefits. Having experienced many different issues for different benefits and payments and even taken these to my Local member in the past I simply do not believe Hank Jongen on the accuracy of payments.
    The system appears designed to make one give up in frustration with too many hoops one has to jump through to receive any benefits.
    The system is badly broken still.

  3. CL worked out what my dual pension should be and I trusted them and accepted their advice. They are supposedly the experts.

    Then out of the blue, they claimed both my wife and I had been overpaid because of my OS pension (which they calculated our joint pensions on) and despite us trying to get to the bottom of how they came up with the amount, they just deducted it off both our payments until they had been reimbursed.

    There was no consideration about how reducing the AP by the amount they chose would affect us or if it was even doable. Then when I asked for a review, they just said this is how it is. The review process is a sham.

    They used robodebt without calling it that to recover their supposed mistake. They claimed we were overpaid for a couple of payments, but the amount they took back did not align with the claimed overpayment amount or the amount they then put us on when the ‘debt’ was repaid. None of the figures balance.

    CL are a law unto themselves, cannot be challenged because the review group report to the same head and are the only advisory group I know who can give advice and then just say, “we were wrong” and now we’ll take back some of what we’ve decided we overpaid you on our advice!

    The staff may be well trained and are pleasant, but at the end of the day, the CL systems and processes make it so hard to challenge CL decisions, people just give up. I worked out the time I was spending fighting the decision was better spent doing other things and since the government needed the money so bad, to just give in.

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