The Centrelink debt recovery saga is far from over, with hundreds of thousands of Aussies stretched to breaking point and Centrelink customer service staff preparing for the imminent onslaught of appeals.
In an effort to recover $4.6 million of debt over four years, the Government has cracked down on welfare recipients by sending almost 170,000 letters, demanding that hundreds of thousands of Centrelink customers provide more detailed information or risk having to repay their benefit.
Despite pleas from the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) to suspend the flawed automated letter-delivery system, the Government is continuing with its controversial plan. The CPSU is now warning that Centrelink’s staff will soon be under immense pressure, trying to deal with an influx of benefit applications from confused students and pensioners attempting to understand the changes to their payments, as well as the anticipated new applications that are made each year.
Assistant National Secretary of the CPSU, Michael Tull says the agency’s standards have already dropped to “unacceptable levels” due to thousands of job cuts in the Department of Human Services (DHS). He says the latest welfare debacle will place even more pressure on overworked staff.
“Thousands of jobs have been cut in the Department of Human Services and that’s why service standards have dropped to unacceptable levels, including 36 million missed calls to the DHS just last year alone,” Mr Tull said.
“This scheme is an absolute nightmare for thousands of Centrelink customers who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong, and the staff who are bearing the brunt of this mess,” he said.
However, the Department says the customer demand is normal for this time of year.
On Monday, the Commonwealth Ombudsman launched an official investigation into the automated Centrelink system, which has seen tens of thousands of innocent customers asked to provide detailed documentation within 14 or 21 days (some of it dating back six years).
Have you or a friend or relative received a letter from Centrelink asking you to provide more information? If so, how have you responded?