Reports have revealed that the Government knew its Centrelink automated debt recovery system was flawed, yet a leaked Centrelink memo reveals that Centrelink management has ordered staff to not to intervene and refer customers online.
Initial Department of Human Services analysis of the data-matching system during its testing phase found a 15 per cent discrepancy rate of notices being delivered to people who do not actually owe any debts.
Even with this knowledge, Centrelink management has been ordered to tell staff not to deal with disputes personally but, rather, refer them back to its online portal.
The leaked Centrelink memo states that staff "should refer customers online to undertake the intervention" and "must not process activities in relation to the Online Compliance Intervention".
Staff have also been ordered to “not cancel the activity under any circumstances."
This seems to fly in the face of Human Services Minister Alan Tudge's statement that anyone who believes they’ve received an incorrect statement can visit a Centrelink office for assistance within 10 minutes.
When Mr Tudge was asked about these claims he said: "We do have self-terminals in the Centrelink office and there are people there who can help people be able to get online with that process."
The same memo does, however, suggest that vulnerable customers can be helped under ‘extenuating circumstances’.
The data-matching system has been under fire all week. One Centrelink employee has gone on record, albeit anonymously, to say that staff weren’t notified of the automated debt-recovery program before it was launched in July 2016. The first time anyone knew about the new system was when a customer walked in with an incorrect letter telling them they owed Centrelink money.
Staff are concerned about ‘extremely anxious, fearful, confused and frustrated’ customers who have requested help after receiving similar notifications.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman is currently investigating claims of recipients receiving incorrect debt notices and Labor has also called on the National Audit Office to investigate.
Mr Tudge continues to deny any fault in the system.
But one Centrelink staff member thinks the system is not only flawed, but is also sceptical that it can be fixed.
"It is as if Centrelink has simply decided that their prized data-matching program is now too hard, too time consuming and too costly," said the employee.
"So let's outsource it to the customer — they will be so overwhelmed that they will give up."
Do you think it’s time the Government suspends its debt-recovery program until it works properly? What do you think about Centrelink staff having to refer disputes back to the flawed online system? Should complaints be handled in person, or would you be okay do sort it out yourself?
Read more at The Guardian
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