Senate inquiry into Centrelink debt recovery system

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Representatives of the community sector have told the Senate inquiry into Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system that the program is unfair, inhumane and an abuse of government power that is undermining confidence in public administration.

Chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss), Cassandra Goldie, told the inquiry that poor treatment of welfare recipients has scared individuals away from claiming income support they otherwise would have a right to access.

“It is really important to understand the power dynamic here,” said Ms Goldie. “The Department of Human Services plays such a critical, powerful role in Australian society. We call it a safety net, let’s not forget the importance of that.”

Ms Goldie believes that Centrelink should be creating a supportive environment to help the nation’s most vulnerable people.

Chairing this inquiry is Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. Yesterday, Ms Siewert expressed her concern with some of the practices that were in-place, as well as how seriously the system had affected welfare recipients.

“Acoss [is] right in pointing out the absurdity of recipients having to investigate their own debt and prove their innocence,” said Ms Siewert. “That job belongs to the department, the department should clearly point out the nature and details of the debt.”

Ms Siewert was also troubled by the 8500 debts that had been waived or reduced to zero between July and December of last year, and that Centrelink had not kept a record of how many were caused by errors with the system, rather than the recipient.

Should the inquiry recommend the closure of the automated debt recovery system? Should there be a full review of the Human Services department and its mandate? Should Minister Tudge stand down?

Read more at abc.net.au
Read more at smh.com.au
Read more at theguardian.com

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75 Comments

Total Comments: 75
  1. 0
    0

    Dept of Human Services debt-letter policy places the onus of correcting errors on to the individual client, WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING THE HUMAN COST IMPOSED ON 40,000 HONEST LAW ABIDING WELFARE CITIZENS who are effectively accused of cheating the government and the taxpayer.
    Apparently, 20% (40,000) of welfare recipients out of 200,000 were sent a letter with an incorrect debt allegation.
    The pressures on Centrelink’s communication systems mean that 40,000 INNOCENT CITIZENS FACE HORRENDOUS DIFFICULTIES in trying to correct their records.
    Apparently, according to a news report, one young person with a disability has already committed suicide.
    http://www.
    ews.com.au/finance/money/costs/centrelink-debt-drove-man-to-suicide-says-family/news-story/317208e77b3c634c16baa4224f899642

    How many similar cases have not been reported yet?
    Sure, DHS is not responsible for client’s mental health stress levels BUt the callousness of incorrect debt allegation is not any different to shooting a person first only to ask questions later – that is – if the client is still alive and able to handle the mental stress agony of correcting an error generated by DHS.
    The intent to recover overpayments is not in question, the way it is erroneously done to include innocent welfare recipients without due care for their mental health , is.
    Oh, hang on – each letter includes a Lifeline phone number – how thoughtful and anticipated, indeed !

  2. 0
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    We’ve been down this road before. When all of the figures in relation to this topic are disclosed I will feel the need to make a comment about whether recovering overpayments are a good or bad thing. Yesterday a topic was truth in reporting by the media and I fear that as bad news sells newspapers that only the horrendous stories are made public. As is now normal for our media, no checks are made as to the veracity of the claims.

    • 0
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      I agree with your position and we certainly have a problem when this exercise is labelled ‘inhumane’.

    • 0
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      I disagree with you Old Man as I do not need to wait until some time in the future to make up my mind. Recovering over payments is a good thing, it could never be described as a bad thing. It is the way over payments are recovered that is the point for discussion.

    • 0
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      Thanks Idontforget, it seems we agree except for the facts surrounding the method of recovery of the overpayments. I don’t know all the facts because we have only been given some of them.

    • 0
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      I think the issue is whether or not the ‘debts’ are valid according to the rules under which people and government agency operated at the time.

      Demanding proof from years back and associating annual income to social security payments over a specified period is not a valid approach. Social security entitlements can ONLY be calculated over a fortnight at a time – not over a year or more.

      To suggest that someone who earned $48k in a given year and received $4.2k in Social Security Benefit is somehow a thief is beyond belief, and beyond the pale.

    • 0
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      Trebor if you read the instructions gievn regarding the amout income a person can earn while collecting welfare there is a fortnightly and a yearly amount that if succeeded they have to notify Centrelink. So of thier tax return exceeds this yearly amount and they don’t notify Centrelink then they have not met their obligations.

      Yes guessed it that idea about welfare can only be calculated fortnighty and tax yearly is nonsense or put bluntly utter rubbish.

      Time to learn the rules Trebor before believing the crap in the media or worse still repeating it like gossip.

    • 0
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      Bonny – that yearly issue only applies to those on Social Security full year round – I find it hard to accept that many such would work in taxed jobs for a start and not declare it – you’d have to be stupid. If a person is on SS for only a part of year, and gets a full time job – there is no consideration of their offering unto Caesar their entire year’s earnings for calculation.

      I never had any trouble with it, just made my declarations every fortnight and happily received my money and paid my tax. My situation is different since I retired mid year.

  3. 0
    0

    There is obviously a problem with the system and equally obvious that Minister Tudge didn’t care. On that basis he should go as it is a major part of his job to care for those who rely on Centrelink.
    If as much effort was being put into the rorting, morally and ethically if not illegally, by politicians then we would hold them in higher regard than we currently do.
    This is all a case of do as I say and not as I do.

    • 0
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      Correction – this government, their opposition, and the contracted senior public service branch sycophants to the elected government do not care…..

      They can kick as many babies as they like and will still get their pension.

    • 0
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      Sorry – that’s “THEIR” contracted etc….. you’ll get it – or ask me to explain it to you…

      OK.. OK… by forcing the senior public service executive on to a contract of employment (and a very juicy one – iron fist velvet glove) John Howard made of them all the servants of and subservient to the Government of the Day – and not of government of the nation.

      I’ve argued that one before – the Government Of The Day is ONLY the Government in the House of Repesentatives – it is NOT government of this nation. Government of the nation is composed of HoR, Senate, Judiciary, Public Service, and a host of subsidiaries, and the division of powers in those bodies, along with their sometimes refusal to accept the will of the Government in the HoR, is the workings of OUR democracy in action.

      Therefore – in making service to the GOTD a prerequisite for renewal of contract for the senior public service executive – Howard effectively placed the senior public service executive in his (and any successive government’s) pocket.

      I you can’t see the very real dangers in that – I cannot help you or this nation.

    • 0
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      TREBOR we have effectively had a few coups not reported in the media as such. The sacking of duly elected councils by Baird and the appointment of government administrators was certainly one.

      We now have pages of development consents and are fighting to stop the sales of our parks and hospitals.

      Baird has gone off now to a lush job at the bank and we will find out bit by bit just exactly what assets we owned have been sold. I don’t suppose the fees and charges from the banks for all these deals and sales will be disclosed.

      Your example of government control of the public service another.

      I have serious doubts about democracy and couldn’t answer if asked if we are a democracy or not. Probably not now.
      Andrew Robbs signing away of sovereign rights on all those trade deals before he went off to work for China was far short of democratic process.

    • 0
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      Ah, yes, Blackbaird and Robbs – perhaps in here lies a kernel of truth as to why Blackbaird quit…

      When a politician quits, you can pretty much be sure they are getting out when the going is good.

    • 0
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      I would suggest that rather than being a genuine democracy, we are being held at legislative gunpoint, and have been for several decades now, by a self-appointed elite, whose aims and intentions are not those of the ordinary person seeking to make his/her way in this life.

      Each ‘side’ of the Tag Team of elected government has an ideology learned at the feet of the learned professors at universities these days, and they pursue that first and foremost with little to no idea of the realities outside their own little group.

  4. 0
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    Tudge needs a good swift kick up the rear end…..for not going much, much harder at recovering Taxpayer funds incorrectly paid to Welfare ‘Clients’.

    It is more than logical to put forward that NOT ONE Welfare ‘Client’ would have freely advised the DHS that they had received an incorrect welfare payment….unless it was short of course….!

    • 0
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      I agree Tudge need a good swift kick up the you know where but not for your reasons grounded, of course overpaid money needs to be repaid, NO ONE HAS A PROBLEM WITH THAT, it is the ridiculous way the department has gone about it that is being questioned, and I also do not agree that all recipients who have been overpaid would not have notified Centrelink of this, not everyone receiving Centrelink payments are dishonest. What a warped view you have of society grounded, I really feel sorry for you.

    • 0
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      I wouldn’t say ‘warped’ Misty….more an HONEST view….totally devoid of ‘rose coloured galsses’!

      With a couple of thousand years to look back on of society, I’ll stick with my honest view of HUMANITY.

      Please, don’t feel sorry for me….I delight in calling phonies out….you should try it!

      (I must add, I do subscribe the maximum that if one dishes it out, one has to expect some in return….so, go for it)

    • 0
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      *maxim….(auto-correct overtake)

    • 0
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      How the hell do you know that, or do you assume that everyone who collects government assistance is a cheat and out to rort the system any way they can. Stick with the facts and keep your stupid opinions to yourself. The FACTS of the case are that more than 20% of the robo letters went to people who owed NOTHING or much much less than first stated. They are made to prove they don’t owe the money, are immediately set upon by debt collectors who threaten them with court proceedings etc.
      But you probably think this is all fine. I have absolutely no problem with Centrelink recovering what is owed to them, but unlike you, I believe there is a right and a wrong way to do it. BTW I collect NO money from Centrelink.

    • 0
      0

      Well that makes two of us Queensland Diva….who collect nothing from the Taxpayer purse. It’s a darn shame that there isn’t more people like you and me…..then our Government wouldn’t have to send out automated letters in a bid to recover our collected taxes incorrectly paid to Welfare ‘Clients’….Cheers.

    • 0
      0

      I believe less than 15% have been incorrectly issued that over 85% owing money to Centrelink. Nothing is 100% and less than 15% incorrect is a very small price to pay to catch those dishonest ones out. Also many of those 15% did owe money but the calculation was not in line with their circumstances and the wrong amount calculated.

      I say we should see a lot more of it and stop the street game of how much can I get away with by defrauding Centrelink.

    • 0
      0

      Well QV what a bitter jealous person grounded seems to be, I paid taxes for 48 years of my working life and I am quite happy if some of those taxes go towards helping people less fortunate then myself unlike grounded.

    • 0
      0

      Misty I have no problem with my taxes helping those who need it but I am sick of those gloating about how they arranged their affairs just to get the OAP. I’m sure QV feels the same way.

      People have to realise that collecting welfare comes with responsibility and if you don’t take your responsibility seriously then you deserve to get caught and fined. So if you ignore those review letters you do so at your own peril and deserve to be disadvantaged for your laziness and ignorance.

    • 0
      0

      Hi (again) Misty. Nah girl, ya still got it wrong. I am certainly not jealous of Welfare ‘Clients’. Far too a pathetic way to live ones life….sloping around looking for where the possibility of a welfare handout exists.

      Just take a look at the rising numbers of generational welfare clients that now exist in this country…1st, 2nd/3rd generation successively active.

      Bitter!? I wouldn’t think so Misty. In the real world, I am known for my generosity and compassion towards those who genuinely fall on hard times….though this doesn’t excuse the fact that those same people…when enjoying the taxpayers largess, from being audited by the benefacting authority…i.e. the Taxpayer.

      One is not required to repay or return the ‘handout’ from the Taxpayer…just comply with an audit….automated or otherwise.

      Try it on in the commercial world….when after getting a loan you are lawfully required to repay. The small print has the borrower trussed up like a suckling pig over a spit.

      No Misty…ya definitely got it all wrong. In fact I am very much a godly man….’God helps those, who help themselves’….and I don’t mean open dipping the Taxpayer’s purse….

      Peace be with you Misty.

    • 0
      0

      Only if overpayments are correctly proven to BE overpayments, grounded, and not just demanded on the basis of ‘we say so’.

    • 0
      0

      OG – grounded etc – I think we’ll wait for a full and proper analysis on this one. As far as I’m concerned, by making these allegations, Centrelink has placed itself fairly in the position of needing to PROVE their case with full details before any action can take place.

      THAT is the Law! And a government department can NOT override the Law to suit itself.

    • 0
      0

      Good…(very early Friday) morning Trebor….we, I missed your contribution yesterday.

      Have taken your comments on board….As you inferred, we’ll wait and see…

    • 0
      0

      Tudge needs a very good swift kick up the rear – out the door. this nation has no time for political seat fillers and party-liners – we need people of action and of dedication.

    • 0
      0

      Oh – I try to remain impartial – but I despise politicians of all stamps while ever they abide by some stupid ideology and refuse their duty to the people first and foremost.

      I’m warming to one or two…..

    • 0
      0

      Like tax evaders, OG – who boast of how they’ve arranged their finances so as to avoid any scrutiny?

      I have bookmarked where you say you do not vote, and have never received any concession from government.

      https://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/age-pension/age-pension-guide/age-pension-meaning-changes#at_pco=smlrebv-1.0&at_si=58b9a75dbc4f400f&at_ab=per-2&at_pos=1&at_tot=5

      If you do not vote, as you yourself say – how then do you derive the right to an opinion on the governance of this nation?

  5. 0
    0

    I agree Tom Tank.

    • 0
      0

      Hear hear. Any body who does not know there is a law for the rich, well connected and politicians and another law for the rest of the community is living with the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

  6. 0
    0

    It was interesting to read the Initial Statement from Kathryn Campbell DHS head, given to Estimates last Thursday, and then compare her statements at the Public Hearing ‘yesterday in Canberra. Transcripts of the Estimates hearing can be viewed now, and in a few days time Yesterdays hearing will be available in Transcript format.

    A couple of extracts – On Line Compliance is only for Clients who have earned income, not those who are wholly dependent on Social Welfare
    . Almost have of the cases described in the public reports did not relate to On line initiative
    As with all our Systems and processes the department is constantly refining how we operate.

    I could go on but in summary DHS don’t recognise that they created a problem for some of their clients. ATO says not our problem, we just give them what we always have given them, which is an Electronic File.

    There will be other Public Meetings in most state in April- see Committee Website for details and all transcripts etc

  7. 0
    0

    Greens Senator Rachel Siewert doesn’t seem to know what she disapproves of. On one hand she is complaining about the attempts to recover over payments and on the other she is whinging about the 8500 debts ‘forgiven’ over the six months to December 2016.

    • 0
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      KSS, you may be right, she is a concern, and so are some other committee Members.
      I am still not sure they are asking the right questions, and then when given a reply, question that further. I will read the Transcript from Yesterdays meeting before I form a full view as I am considering making a submission to the Committee. Although not personally impacted this time, give the apparent stuff ups, Systems, Policy, Procedure I am concerned about the next stage of the roll out where Age Pensioners are to be impacted directly. If they couldn’t get this right what hope for next stage!!!

    • 0
      0

      Obviously our elected politicians do not understand the issues they are there to check….

      Just saying….

      A five minute read here and on other fora will enlighten them, since there are many fine minds out here….. if not there.

  8. 0
    0

    Cheating and fraud is happening right across Australia rich and poor and must be stopped. But why does the clean up start with the small end of town and not the big end were corruption is a way of life.Our present Federal Government seem very reluctant to take on the big guys or is this Government not interested in a fair go for all Australians.

    • 0
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      Looney those getting caught are those too lazy to learn the rules before they play the game. Ignorance is no excuse.

    • 0
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      Agree, Looney, that the efforts would be much better directed at the rich and large companies escaping payment of reasonable taxes – if the rules allow such behaviour, the rules should be changed. Silence on this front from politicians, including Labor, is deafening!

      While I support overpayments being detected efficiently, if systems fail and end up targeting the innocent, the system and all who delivered it must be stood down and the problem fixed immediately. Not sure why a Senate inquiry is needed – it should be an automatic result of customer satisfaction surveys of Clients! Wait a minute – they don’t do such things in Centrelink?

    • 0
      0

      When politicians cheat, when judges/magistrates cheat, when police cheat, when public servants cheat…. what conclusion, then, is the ordinary person to draw?

      That we live in a land of thieves governed by thieves?

    • 0
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      On I get it, OG. If you are rich enough to buy sophisticated advice or get a great education, it’s okay to ”play by the rules” and not pay your way, but if you are disadvantaged you must be beaten and bullied?

  9. 0
    0

    I actually had a Clink staff member tell me over the phone this morning that they stuffed up. It was not in relation to an overpayment , but because for about the third time they have tried to tell me they were paying me at the wrong rate for my rent allowance. They sent me a letter today saying I owed them some money (not a huge amount), but after I patiently explained everything to them again, they agreed the mistake was theirs. They are quick to demand money, even if they are not always entitled to it, which happened for many people with ROBo Debt!

  10. 0
    0

    Just shows the Senate has very little else to do.

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