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Centrelink defends debt recovery scheme after Andrew Wilkie criticism

4 January 2017
Henry Belot
ABC News

The Department of Human Services has defended its controversial new debt recovery system, which has been blamed for frightening welfare recipients over the Christmas period.

General manager Hank Jongen dismissed reports that some people were mistakenly targeted by the system, which cross-references employment data from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and Centrelink.

The scheme has produced nearly 170,000 notices of potential overpayment since July and the Government believes one in five people will not have to pay anything.

"I really am surprised that people are seriously suggesting that when we are obliged under the law to recover outstanding debt when it is identified, that we are being asked to stop doing this," Mr Jongen said.

"The number of complaints we have received is a little over 200. I think you need to keep all of this in context."

Mr Jongen repeated Social Services Minister Christian Porter's insistence the notifications were "not debt letters".

"You need to read the letter carefully, it is not saying that an overpayment has occurred," he said.

"What we are asking for is clarification because there are differences between the data we have received from the customer and what has been told to the tax office."

Mr Jongen said the system had identified close to $300 million in overpayments.