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Centrelink: Tax office says it it cannot be blamed for automated debt recovery system's failings

8 March 2017
Henry Belot
ABC News

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has sought to distance itself from Centrelink's controversial debt recovery program, telling a Senate inquiry it cannot be held accountable for how its data is used.

ATO officials claim there were no detailed conversations about how the Department of Human Services (DHS) would compare the ATO's annual income records of welfare recipients with its own periodic records.

This data matching process formed the basis of Centrelink's controversial debt recovery program, which was automated in mid-2016 in a bid to unlock savings.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has sought to distance itself from Centrelink's controversial debt recovery program, telling a Senate inquiry it cannot be held accountable for how its data is used.

ATO officials claim there were no detailed conversations about how the Department of Human Services (DHS) would compare the ATO's annual income records of welfare recipients with its own periodic records.

This data matching process formed the basis of Centrelink's controversial debt recovery program, which was automated in mid-2016 in a bid to unlock savings.

[...]

ATO officials made it clear they could not be blamed for the program's failings, given they were only responsible for providing data to DHS, rather than interpreting it.

Deputy commissioner Greg Williams said he did not anticipate problems with the program because DHS had been using ATO data for more than 20 years.

"Other than what we knew in the public arena, we had no direct conversations with them about the ramp up," Mr Williams said.

[...]

He said the ATO raised concerns to "maintain a level of integrity in the role the ATO played in this exercise".

"It was the volume of what was playing out and given, in our opinion, the ATO's involvement in the program was something we didn't think was technically correct," he said.

"We would say that we are involved in the identity matching and the provision of data, but we are not involved in the data matching that occurs on the DHS side."