10 November 2016
The facts on whether they have access to your cash
Admit it – you’ve always wondered. Do they? Can they? And what happens if I’m caught out?
If you receive any kind of benefit payment from Centrelink – perhaps Newstart, Family Tax Benefit, a pension, Youth Allowance or Austudy, any kind of payment – you might have wondered – do Centrelink check my bank account?
Well – they don’t…but they kinda do.
What we mean is – while Centrelink don’t have the power to spot check your personal bank account, they do conduct cross checks with other Government agencies and use data-matching to check that we’re all doing the right thing.
These processes help them identify and investigate any cases of possible welfare fraud.
Take an example.
- Let’s say you’ve provided Centrelink with your annual income estimate, and they’ve used this estimate to calculate your benefit payments.
- But when you submit your annual tax return to the ATO your annual income is significantly different to the estimate you gave Centrelink.
- Centrelink’s data matching software would likely flag this difference, causing them to investigate your circumstances.
- They could request details of your accounts from your bank, and review these.
How it works
- As you probably know, Centrelink need to know your income and assets details to work out your benefit payments.
- So if your circumstances change – perhaps you receive a lump sum payment or your relationship status changes, you need to let Centrelink know.
- And remember, for most of us our lives and actions are often pretty visible online. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram make it easy for agencies like Centrelink to keep an eye on you.
- They can investigate social media posts to determine things like if you’re really in a relationship when you’ve told them you’re single.
- And be warned – the government are pretty committed to detecting welfare fraud.
- A government program called Taskforce Integrity is on the lookout for people cheating the system – just last year it recovered over $2.2 million in fraudulent payments.
So, what happens if Centrelink say they’ve overpaid me?
Don’t worry – Centrelink can’t remove funds from your bank account.
- However, they do have several means by which they can recover overpayments.
- They’ll send you a letter with an Account Payable explaining how much you owe them and why.
- This letter will also outline when your payment is due and how you can pay it.
- If you don’t start repaying your debt, Centrelink can reduce your benefit payment by 15 per cent – or more if you earn income other than your benefit payment.
- Centrelink may also ask a debt collection agency to try to recover your debt from you.
- They could also take legal action against you, and could even make a claim on your wages, tax return, income and assets – including money held in a bank account.
Don’t get caught out
The key to avoiding any issues with Centrelink is to basically be upfront about your circumstances. As they say, honesty is the best policy.
- Let Centrelink know when any of your details change – from your address or contact details through to your income, assets, child support payment arrangements and so on.
- If you’re honest about any changes to your details, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
- For some helpful hints on staying up to date and making sure you’re playing the game by the rules, check out our post on how to avoid Centrelink fraud.