Centrelink has again been accused of threatening vulnerable Australians with intimidating messages and letters warning them against committing welfare fraud.
Critics have lashed out at Centrelink for sending ‘intimidating’ and ‘threatening’ text messages to welfare recipients, many of whom may be doing it tough or suffering from mental illness.
However, the Department of Human Services (DHS) says the messages are ‘educational’ and merely intended to inform people of their obligations.
A DHS spokesperson said the Taskforce Integrity letters and texts were not sent to age pensioners, nor to anyone receiving disability support or to those with an intellectual, severe mental or physical disability.
Just last week, Centrelink was in hot water for using the Australia Federal Police (AFP) logo on letters to customers.
The DHS sent ‘threatening’ letters to clients telling them to update their details, listing a range of penalties for committing welfare fraud, which include prison sentences and criminal records.
In order to help detect welfare fraud, the DHS and the AFP started Taskforce Integrity in 2015. The taskforce has targeted areas judged to be at higher risk of non-compliance. Since 2015, an estimated 85,000 letters bearing the AFP logo have been sent.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert believes the Government is trying to intimidate vulnerable people who are struggling and had done nothing wrong.
“This is the action of an authoritarian government and shows contempt for people, fairness and process,” she said.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie shares the sentiment.
“Put yourself in the shoes of someone who gets this kind of message when they are struggling to make ends meet and get through to Centrelink,” said Ms Goldie.
“The Government has a high duty of care to people who are accessing income support payments because they are often vulnerable, but these texts come across as warnings.”
However, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge defended the letters, saying, “I think the taxpayer is quite happy to support those who are down on their luck at any particular time. They also expect there to be integrity in the welfare system and we have a robust system of ensuring that and recouping money when it has been overpaid.”
The latest round of criticism follows the bungled robo-debt recovery scheme, which a parliamentary committee recommended should cease because the program had a “profoundly negative impact on the lives of thousands of Australians”.
Read more at The Age
Do you think the Government has learned anything from the Senate inquiry into Centrelink? Have you, or has someone you know, received one of the letters? Does it seem threatening? Or did it seem more ‘educational’?