The Centrelink scandal continues

Although the Government asserts that it has reclaimed $300 million in debts owed by welfare recipients, it refuses to disclose exactly how much money it has recovered.

Launched in July 2016, the automated debt compliance system has been the subject of much scrutiny from its inception. Since human oversight has been removed from the recovery process it has been plagued by errors, which have resulted in thousands of Australians receiving incorrect debt notices for money they don’t owe.

The Government has repeatedly stuck by its flawed system, claiming that it has recovered $300 million worth of Centrelink overpayments. When the Department of Human Services (DHS) was asked exactly how much debt has been reclaimed, it was unable to provide an estimate.

The $300 million said to have been reclaimed is the amount of debt that has been identified by the Government – not the amount actually recovered.

Typically, amounts recovered add up to roughly half of that which is identified. For example, in the last financial year, the Government identified $2.8 billion in money owed, but only $1.54 billion was recovered.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge is still defending the system, despite his admission that the program has some flaws. Labor has called for the system to be suspended while an investigation into its efficacy and accuracy continues, to which Mr Tudge replied: “… frankly, I don’t think many taxpayers would support that call”.

Thousands of Australians have been wrongly assigned debt notices and, subsequently, harassed by debt collectors and threatened with jail time for not resolving the issue within 28 days. This is despite the DHS admitting that the dispute process takes around three weeks longer than the time assigned to repay any debts owed.

“The time taken to finalise a formal review depends on the complexity of the individual case. For the financial year to date, the average time to finalise a review in relation [to] debt decision was 49 days,” stated Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen.

Amid these complaints and errors, do you think the Government should declare how much money it has actually recovered? Do you think the Government is right to defend its debt-recovery system by using false figures? Is it time the Government admitted defeat and cleaned up the robo-debt system?

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