Welfare debt pursuit ramps up
Given the current furore surrounding Centrelink’s controversial data-matching system – which has incorrectly accused thousands of Aussies of welfare fraud and overpayments – you’d hope the government would be making some much-needed corrections and beating a hasty retreat.
Uh-uh. It seems Centrelink are determined to be relentless in their pursuit of so-called welfare cheats. And next in their sights? Pensioners and the disabled, some of the most elderly and disadvantaged in our communities.
So what’s the story?
Who’s next in Centrelink’s sights?
- Rather than acknowledge the much-publicised criticisms and failings of the current data-matching system and associated complaints process, the government have announced plans to expand it.
- Later this year Centrelink will target pensioners and the disabled to investigate potential overpayment of welfare benefits and attempt to recover welfare debt.
- The government hope that their expansion of the controversial system will save them nearly $1.5 billion over four years.
- Labor are opposed to the system and its expansion, and are calling for it to be suspended.
- And the Commonwealth Ombudsman is investigating the debt recovery program, in response to the huge volume of complaints and public outcry.
Pensioner assets and investments under investigation
- Centrelink plan to launch automated data-matching that targets aged pensioners for potential welfare overpayments.
- This data matching will focus on the assets and investments of aged pensioners.
- Social welfare groups are concerned that the system is targeting some of the most needy members of society.
- They are concerned with the methods Centrelink are using and how they are communicating alleged debts to welfare payment recipients. Many are being left feeling very distressed and confused, and have difficulty trying to resolve the issue with Centrelink.
- The Australian Council of Social Services claim that Centrelink’s automated program is riddled with errors and are calling for it to be suspended – not expanded!
- More than 2.5 million Australians receive pension payments, and another 777,000 receive disability support pensions.
A few tweaks have been made
Centrelink continue to insist their system is working just fine, and have only conceded to making a few small changes:
- If a recipient contests their alleged debt, Centrelink agree to launch an internal review of their payments before commencing debt proceedings.
- Letters to Centrelink clients will now be sent by registered mail so that Centrelink can track whether they have been received. And in some cases, the letter will be followed up with a phone call.
- The language used in these letters is to be made clearer and a contact phone number included.
- Centrelink will ensure people are informed of discrepancies in their accounts before being contacted by debt collectors.
But most argue these small changes achieve very little and are calling for the system to be scrapped altogether.