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Centrelink unable to track how many overpayments caused by error

31 January 2017
Christopher Knaus
Guardian

Centrelink is unable to track how many cases of overpayment are caused by government error, according to responses it provided to a senate committee.

The Department of Human Services provided a series of responses to questions posed by the Greens senator Rachel Siewert on welfare overpayments.

Siewert asked how many of the 629,917 customers overpaid last financial year were caused through system or administrative error by Centrelink. DHS responded: “The department does not currently capture the portion of overpayments raised as a result of system or administrative error.”

Siewert described that lack of information as outrageous, saying the department appeared not to be keeping track of its own mistakes. “The government must immediately work to establish how many people accessing the social safety net received an overpayment because of an administrative error,” she said.

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Centrelink has always required those who have been overpaid to pay the money back, including when the overpayment was not their fault. That is a separate issue to complaints about the new debt recovery system, which has been criticised for allegedly wrongly pursuing welfare debts from vulnerable Australians.

Rallies were held across the country to protest against the unfairness of the automated system on Tuesday, drawing small crowds in Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide. 

In Melbourne, the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said the government’s debt recovery program was the “epitome of a system that is stacked against ordinary people”.