What if you’re underpaid benefits?

Over the last few weeks, much has been made of the Government’s debt-recovery program but if data-matching really is the way forward, when will it be used to help those who have been underpaid or missed out on benefits altogether?

Following analysis of the Government’s Parenting Payment, The Australia Institute (TAI) uncovered that an estimated 113,176 Australian families missed out on payments. According to its paper, Match making: Using data-matching to find people missing out on Government assistance, in the year 2008-09, the amount of Parenting Payments not paid totalled $46.8 million, with one in four families missing out on payments due.

Interestingly, during its analysis, TAI found that almost the same number of people were estimated to be missing out on payments as those who were being overpaid. It also notes that while data matching can indeed identify overpayments, it doesn’t mean that the recipients were actually welfare cheats. Often it’s the complex nature of the forms, the detailed information required and the inability of people to understand the language used that results in the discrepancy.

Although the Government’s data-matching system can’t actually identify those not receiving payments they are due (as it requires a customer account to cross reference the information from other agencies), it can identify where an underpayment is being made. This is not just for the Parenting Payment, it’s also for any payments that require reporting of income, such as the Age Pension and Newstart Allowance.

Of the 1034 Australians surveyed by TAI, 75 per cent believed that the Government should do more to identify those who may be missing out on payments. TAI also concludes that with data matching being used to help people find unclaimed and lost superannuation, there is a clear need to utilse the technology to provide a similar system for welfare payments.

Read the full paper at TAI.org.au

Opinion: There can’t be different rules for all

Not only has the Government’s debt-recovery program been badly managed, it has raised questions about the fairness of the system in general.

In a week where the Minister for Health Sussan Ley stood down and later resigned due to a supposed rort in travel expenses, it was open season for the mainstream media on the Government. Tales of Julie Bishop’s trip to Portsea Polo, Mathias Cormann’s weekends in Broome and even Peter Dutton’s working dinner in the USA all hit the front pages, yet they couldn’t quite bury the debacle that has been the Centrelink debt-recovery program.

How galling for those who have received an incorrect notice of possible overpayment of benefits or have been forced in to repayment plans to see our esteemed ministers living it up at the taxpayers’ expense? And while you may think that the two issues are not connected, the reality is that both are a reflection on the failure to understand that just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it morally correct.

Sure, all of the ministers who hit the headlines, not just last week but over the last few years, for seemingly excessive travel claims may well have acted within the current guidelines, but can they honestly say they didn’t use the rules to their own personal advantage? And the Government is indeed well within its rights to instruct Centrelink to pursue those who may have been overpaid benefits, but surely it has an obligation to ensure the integrity of the system it uses to do so?

It’s not only the integrity of Centrelink’s debt-recovery process that should be called into question, but also the means for which it is used. If the system is able to flag cases where an overpayment has occurred, then surely there is a moral obligation to flag cases where the individual has been underpaid? If so, it’s one that the Government has chosen not to take on board.

Instead the onus is on the individual customer to try and make sense of the complex rules and legislation that are attached to every Centrelink payment. And, as we at YourLifeChoices see every week from the questions we receive seeking clarification of Centrelink rules and entitlements, this is far from easy.

With a recent Reachtel poll, conducted in the wake of the Centrelink debacle and the current entitlements scandal, indicating that undecided voters would, if pushed, list Labor as their first preference, perhaps a little New Year goodwill from the Government would go a long way.

What do you think? Should the Government look to clean up its own entitlement issues before chasing people who may not owe anything to Centrelink? Or are the two items completely separate? Do you think the onus should be on Centrelink to flag underpayments? Have you uncovered a Centrelink underpayment? And if so, did you find it easy to have the payment corrected?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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