Centrelink debt collectors get heavy

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?

Related articles:
Centrelink releases personal details
The Centrelink scandal continues
Centrelink to target age pensioners

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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