Centrelink debt collectors could be “breaching the law”

Centrelink debt collectors still chasing debts that are under dispute.

Centrelink debt collectors could be “breaching the law”

Centrelink debt collectors contracted by the Government are continuing to threaten Australians, even though many of them have been wrongly targeted for welfare debts.

The inquiry into Centrelink’s robo-debt recovery system has been underway since early March, and has received numerous submissions from people saying they were wrongly targeted for welfare debts.

Yet despite these allegations, there are continuing reports of debt collectors behaving inappropriately.

Since Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s potentially illegal response to criticism of the debt-recovery system earlier this year, most of these reports have been made anonymously as many are scared that the Government could release their personal information if they publically criticise Centrelink.

However, the Department of Human Services (DHS) maintains that its debt collectors are behaving appropriately.

“The external debt collectors are required to meet all of the guidelines, policies and requirements that are set out by the ACCC. That is part of their contract,” said the Deputy Secretary for Integrity and Information Malisa Golightly.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warns that debt collectors chasing debts under dispute are at “considerable risk of breaching the law”.

But these warnings don’t seem to prevent Centrelink from handing over debts that are under dispute to debt collection agencies.

“My details were passed on to Probe Group before I was notified of the outcome of my first review,” an anonymous submission read. “Worse, as I discovered today, the debt collectors have access to the same bank account information that Centrelink has on file.”

“I was advised by a Centrelink officer that Probe could see my bank account information, and could see that I have [amount redacted] in said account (this was information from 2012) and would be in a position to repay the debt.”

“I am thoroughly alarmed that this information has been passed on to a third party and consider this a tremendous breach of privacy.”

Even though the system is under inquiry, Centrelink has also commenced using its controversial automated debt recovery methods to incorrectly demand repayments from people with disabilities.

According to advocacy group Children and Young People with Disability Australia Centrelink’s robo-debt system is causing "marked emotional and financial stress" on young people with disabilities and their families.

Should the robo-debt system be put on hold until the inquiry is complete? Do you think that it’s fair for a faulty program to continue to badger Australians and, now, disabled people?

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    COMMENTS

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    Rodent
    4th Apr 2017
    10:51am
    Hey OLD GEEZER are you there.

    Remember you said there were no real issues re Robo Debt, just a lot of people ripping off the Govt. Now that there are 108 Submissions to the Senate Select Committee, would you like to rethink your views? Clearly these people/organisations have some concerns.
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    11:15am
    108 is that all? A mere drop in the ocean I'd say from the 10s of thousands that owe Centrelink money.
    Koj
    4th Apr 2017
    11:34am
    good ole windy!
    if one is guilty, hang the whole queue
    statistically not many of the population are the victims of government ineptitude (ahem), violent crime, fraud etc etc
    but I'm putting myself out there by suggesting that ole windy would squeal like a stuck pig if it was him in the sights when an innocent cops it.
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    11:39am
    Unfortunately I have been innocently arrested and held in a cell over night. So I know the drum now and how the system works so I'll just sit back an enjoy the experience.
    TREBOR
    5th Apr 2017
    8:27am
    "108 is that all?"

    So the tip of the iceberg is now meaningless? The inquiry would have had the submissions vetted beforehand so as to 'address the salient and relevant issues', so only the relevant direct to the issues ones would even get in the door.

    I had a couple of submissions to Royal Commissions and even offered to give evidence, but those, like such inquiries, simply cannot deal with every single person and issue, so they look at the broad canvas.
    FrankC
    4th Apr 2017
    11:03am
    Now it seems Centrelink CAN access your bank accounts. Lying toads said that they couldn't
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    11:19am
    You would be surprised who can access your bank account. I tell people on welfare to have another account besides the one they get their welfare paid into and to clear it out into the second bank account ASAP. Preferably have the second account at another bank as well or one of those ones where you have to transfer money to another of your bank accounts before you can use it.
    Rae
    4th Apr 2017
    11:24am
    That cashless economy will make it impossible to save or protect your savings. Clearing it out into cash is a far more private option. It also means your spending leaves a minimal trace if you don't leave tracking by using a loyalty card.
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    11:30am
    It won't be long before welfare is no longer put into bank accounts so getting cash will not be an option. The deal has already been done to provide all welfare recipients with a welfare card instead of paying money into bank accounts. Sources tell me they are already being printed.
    Slimmer Cat
    4th Apr 2017
    12:12pm
    I have noticed that the author of the above article, Leon Della Bosca, has once again rightly described money from the government as WELFARE.

    "Centrelink debt collectors contracted by the Government are continuing to threaten Australians, even though many of them have been wrongly targeted for welfare debts."
    Rae
    4th Apr 2017
    12:49pm
    The current fascist right will keep dragging us into feudalism until we actively resist. I notice The Handmaiden's Tale is making a comeback.

    One way or another you will be consumers. We have ways of making you spend where we tell you to.
    TREBOR
    5th Apr 2017
    8:28am
    I was struck by the comment in a media article that the collectors were permitted access to concerned people's bank accounts, by Centrelink.

    Say again?
    TREBOR
    5th Apr 2017
    8:32am
    Leon can be lazy and use the shorter term - Social Security is more unwieldy and rolls off the tongue a lot harder than 'welfare' - but his meaning and definition of the term is not the same as the supremacist/elitist lobby.

    Now if he'd used the term Welfare (not welfare as a general description), Slimmer, you might have a case.... remember that words have power and the use or non-use of a Capital makes the world of difference.....

    You'll get there.
    Rae
    4th Apr 2017
    11:20am
    All affected should immediately contact the ACCC and officially complain. If debt collectors are intimidating then contact the police.

    Trying to gain money by deception and intimidation is illegal whether done by an individual, business or government.
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    11:34am
    Debt collectors are allowed to come to your front door and serve you a notice unless you have a sign that says otherwise on the boundary of your property. This sign has to have certain wording etc to be legal so any old sign won't stop them. From memory it's quite a big and lengthy sign as the fellow down the road had one awhile back.
    Rae
    4th Apr 2017
    12:56pm
    Yes OG we have dealt with collectors. There are threats they make that are illegal. A simple payment of a dollar a week can contain them until the problem is sorted or legal aid sought.

    They may serve you but cannot stalk you by constant calls and threats.

    Apparently teams of lawyers have been allocated at taxpayer expense to deal with this rot.

    Simply pay all retirees over pension age and tax other income. It would be far cheaper I suspect. Not that welfare is breaking the bank. That less than 3% of GDP for all of it makes it cheap. It is not welfare blowing the budget but the incompetent contracts and the 40% business hoovers up.

    Even tax deductions for super cost us more than welfare.
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    3:09pm
    Although I don't need the OAP I agree it would be better to pay it to everyone over pension age and make it taxable like all other investment income.

    There are just so many loopholes in the super system it is not funny.

    Here are a couple

    Many people today are leaving work before retirement age so they spend down their super etc so that by the time they get to retirement age they qualify for the OAP.

    There are also a lot of people getting a second job who are on transition to retirement super pension only to leave within hours of starting so that they met the condition of release and it becomes a full pension. Meanwhile they keep their main job and get their super remains tax free after July 1.
    Rae
    5th Apr 2017
    8:15am
    Yes and a younger partner leaving their super in accumulation so the older partner gets the pension for a few years.

    What is that one about? Apart from letting millionaires keep assets isolated and unaccounted I don't understand why an accumulation account isn't acknowledged. It is a tool for the really wealthy I suppose so is out of bounds.
    ex PS
    5th Apr 2017
    4:19pm
    O.G retirement age, no such thing, you can retire when you can afford to. I retired at 55 and will live off my Super until it runs out, I will then go onto the Pension that I am entitled to.
    Not what I planned to do, but the government has given me no incentive to stick to my original plan of being totally self funded. I see no reason to restrain my spending knowing that the government can and probably will meddle with the Pension Entitlement and Super in order to provide companies that pay little tax anyway with billions of dollars worth of tax cuts.
    Many of my friends are of the same opinion.
    I my opinion the government is breaching the law by presenting invoices for unsubstantiated over payments. This is a scam that was big in the 70's and 80's criminals would submit bogus invoices to thousands of companies and just hope that they would be payed without question. These people when caught went to gaol for fraud, why is the government exempt?
    Rae, in a lot of cases the younger partner can not access their Super because they have not met the age requirement. Plus in order to access their Super they have to quit their job, my wife still works and as such can not access her Super, why should she quit just because I chose to retire? We are definitely not wealthy. Even when retired you do not have to access your Super, you can not add to it but you are allowed to leave it in the fund as long as you like.
    GeorgeM
    4th Apr 2017
    12:35pm
    Any defective system which affects even one innocent person should be shut down immediately and the incompetent people who created it should be sacked or at least suspended till it is resolved.

    The ACCC needs to act strongly and enforce the shutdown of the defective system.
    The ACCC also needs to monitor and act strongly again the misbehaviour of all concerned, including debt collectors, who are acting on behalf of this Govt department.
    KSS
    4th Apr 2017
    1:24pm
    I have a problem with this report and am quite suspect as to the veracity of some of the claims. Anonymously complaining about treatment one is claiming to have experienced is pointless and leads nowhere. How exactly do those making anonymous claimants expect their complaints to 1) be taken seriously and 2) be investigated and resolved?

    Then there is the regurgitation of the case of the public blogger who made a number of erroneous claims about Centrelink, her situation and the alleged 'difficult' process of debt collection, who then whinged further about the Minister Mt Tudge putting the record straight claiming her privacy having been breached when she put it out there in the first place. All very emotive but hardly a good example of Centrelink failings.

    Rodent says there are 108 submissions to the Senate Select Committee - this raises a couple of questions: First how many of those complaints are actually from Centrelink welfare recipients detailing their specific issues, and second, how many are from welfare organisations making unsubstantiated claims on behalf of nameless clientele?

    Then again, how many tens of thousands of welfare recipients past and present have been audited? 108 submissions doesn't sound like a lot when put into that perspective. I do not doubt that there have been some errors on both side, but surely a little deep breathing and perspective is necessary here. The underlying message is: If you claim welfare - of any kind - be prepared to be investigated and audited. Keep records (as in fact you are required to do under law in many instances e.g. tax returns) and don't make false claims then whinge when you get caught.
    Rodent
    4th Apr 2017
    2:56pm
    Dear KSS the answer to your question re the 108 submissions can be seen from the Committee Page, under Submissions. The answer is many are from Private Individuals, others are from Organisations, some of course are just pushing a particular wheelbarrow/point of view.

    Many submissions are marked Confidential and cannot be read

    There is even one from DSS defending itself, but admitting it could have been better implemented and identifying SOME of the changes made, which should have been there BEFORE they hit the start button!!
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    3:03pm
    How many of the 108 submissions were in favour of the system? I know of one that was.
    Rodent
    4th Apr 2017
    3:29pm
    OG did you write one? whats its number so we can look it up
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    4:22pm
    Now Rodent to do so would be to disclose my real identity.
    East of Toowoomba
    4th Apr 2017
    7:38pm
    KSS, you can answer your own questions here:

    http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/SocialWelfareSystem/Submissions
    TREBOR
    5th Apr 2017
    8:37am
    **rolls eyes** of course ONE submission was in favour of the current system - the submission of the minister or the department concerned... **rolls eyes again** they'd have to submit to give a general background to the system before the criticisms are allowed to rip it apart...

    KSS - do you have any idea how many people out there are cowering under 'city hall' right now and either afraid to speak out or feel that to do so would be useless anyway? Once trust in your government is gone, there is no getting it back..... and I doubt anyone out there any longer trusts governments here, hence the surging background of dissent and revolt.
    KSS
    6th Apr 2017
    6:22am
    Do you Trebor? And IF you do, please enlighten us all and give your sources.
    floss
    4th Apr 2017
    1:25pm
    The class war is really heating up,it is very un Australian.Where did our once great country go.Robo Debt what next.
    Rae
    5th Apr 2017
    8:21am
    Targeting owners of luxury mansions, vehicles and expensive boats to run ATO audits but we won't do that will we. Might embarrass a lot of people declaring minimum incomes and avoiding taxes.

    Unfortunately those in the winning Class are in charge of the governments.

    4th Apr 2017
    3:34pm
    Leon, please stop trying to terrify us old people. Your article is up (or should that be down) to your usual standards. You state that a number of people have lodged submissions stating that they have been wrongly targeted for welfare debts and then proceed to add 'Yet despite these allegations, there are continuing reports of debt collectors behaving inappropriately." Whether by design or accident, you have directly linked the two pieces of information. I note, however, that you have offered no actual proof of the "reports".

    You have to understand, Leon, that the media is full of misquotes, partial quotes and downright lies and whilst I could never accuse you of any of this, when you quote from an anonymous submission there is a doubt in my mind. I recall with great clarity Trent Hunter telling the media that he stood to lose $106.00pw because of the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut penalty rates. It was widely reported as a fact but, sadly, Trent Hunter lied and the media went ahead printing that lie without confirmation. Trent Hunter, it turned out, is a union delegate working for Coles under an EBA which is not touched by the Fair Work Commission's decision.

    Please, Leon, can you print some actual facts for us pensioners so we can evaluate the information supplied. I, for one, have had enough of your articles from "unnamed sources", 'anonymous submissions" and "it has been reported". When we know there are factual sources, we can check them for ourselves and read what has been actually said rather than a potted version of a part of it.
    Rodent
    4th Apr 2017
    3:56pm
    Dear Old Man

    I understand your views re the way some articles are written, and I tend to agree, not just this one from YLC but many others in the so called Media(I exclude anything in Facebook as its a waste of time, and can be quite dangerous.
    Because I wrote a submission to this enquiry, I was interested in reading all the other submissions, (which I have done) There is a lot of hot air in what some have said but the underlying message is that this has been a stuff up of significant proportions and clearly could have been implemented better. My submission was very general, but also specific about what comes next. My concern is if they could not get this right, so called data matching between Centrelink and ATO correct where they were primarily dealing with Payments and Earned Income how are they ever going to get the next stage correct? meaning when they attempt to implement it for -Age Pensioners (who generally don't have earned income)
    Old Geezer
    4th Apr 2017
    4:44pm
    Rodent the ATO data matches to your tax file number so if you have investment income then this income will be taken into account the same as earned income from tax purposes. This investment income is usually covered by deeming by Centrelink so they don't want to know about it. So you can earn as much as you like provided you have given Centrelink details of your assets.
    Ginaus
    4th Apr 2017
    3:58pm
    get rid of these incompetent parasites; go after the muslims with 2-3 wives....
    BundyGil
    5th Apr 2017
    1:24am
    Of course they should discontinue this flawed and probably illegal system until it is designed properly and able to reconcile the varying inputs correctly, which it is quite unable to do now.
    .I really don't know why they persist metinkd as the stink from it is undoubtedly contributung to the government's poll woes. Methinks Alan Trudge has a tin political ear, much like toxic Tony's. Except Trudge's may end him up in jail if his actions go to court as they should. I'm sure he's being very badly advised by Centrelink.
    ex PS
    5th Apr 2017
    4:22pm
    It's politics BundyGil, the government just can't afford to admit to any more mistakes, it would rather persecute the innocent than admit that it got it wrong yet again.
    ceejay
    6th Apr 2017
    12:13pm
    I have recently been told by the Centrelink Debt Management team that I have a debt of almost $10,000 going back to mid-2012. They stated they had not been advised of my change of circumstances....rubbish! This is despite doing everything I could to advise Centrelink that I had remarried and that my new wife was sick with cancer and on leave from her job. Apparently they allege I was paid the single rate and that it was my responsibility to ensure I was getting the correct rate of payment... a little difficult when they rate my small holding over 5 acres and class it as an asset and their making me take a very small New Zealand payment, reduces my aged pension (all incomprehensible to me). Things have not got much better with 2 more bouts of cancer and resulting treatments for my wife, me having a recent cancer surgery and, then trying to manage a non-productive farm through drought. When I requested a statement of reasons they were not forthcoming. Natural justice suggests I need to know what allegations are being made so I can appeal appropriately. I note on the Payment Invoice that got the date of our living together wrong...their response was it was probably an administrative error. How many other administrative errors have they made, not only on my Centrelink account but on so many other genuine, hard-working Australians?
    Rodent
    6th Apr 2017
    4:59pm
    Old Geezer

    Just to CORRECT your statement Re ATO/Centrelink Data matching.

    A persons TFN is not used by ATO and Centrelink in their data Matching activities related to the On Line Compliance Intervention program. It was used previously but not now in this programme
    Nerk
    21st Aug 2017
    10:21am
    Get the cash out and put under pillow.