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Christian Porter flags broader debt recovery effort

4 January 2017
David Crowe
The Australian

The federal government has vowed to extend its program to recover $4 billion in welfare debts from almost two million Australians despite admitting to “small instances” where people are being asked to refund money they do not owe.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter declared the program to be working so well it would be ramped up over the next four years, as he ridiculed Labor demands to suspend it in order to stop the false claims for refunds.

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Legal aid agencies are advising people to challenge the letters given official figures from Centrelink last year showing that 37.5 per cent of its decisions were revised after internal reviews.

Victoria Legal Aid executive director for civil justice Dan Nicholson said his group was ­advising people to challenge the notices. “If you feel like Centrelink’s made the wrong decision, quite often it turns out they have,” he said. “This data matching system is unfairly putting the onus on people to correct mistakes that are being made by Centrelink.”

Mr Porter said only 0.16% of those letters resulted in complaints to Centrelink — or 276 complaints out of 169,000 letters over the past six months — and showed that only a “tiny minority” were having problems.

Labor human services spokeswoman Linda Burney said the ministers’s figures did not reflect the actual amount of errors in the system.

“That is probably because when you’ve been wrongly accused of fraud and asked to pay back thousands of dollars, the last thing you want to do is wait on hold to Centrelink for hours to make a complaint that goes nowhere,” Ms Burney said.