The Government is taking steps to ensure people pay back their welfare debts if they have received payments they are not entitled to.
Two Bills are being introduced to Parliament today to strengthen the integrity of Australia’s welfare system.
Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, said the Government will impose an interest charge on debts, remove the six-year limit on debt recovery and prevent social security debtors from leaving the country.
“There are an estimated 270,000 former recipients of social security and family assistance payments who owe more than $870 million to the Government and are not making any effort to repay it,” Mr Porter said. “The number of debts, the size of debts and the duration of outstanding debts is cause for serious concern.”
“One percent of Australia’s population has received money they are not entitled to and owe a debt to the other 99% of Australians, a debt that in too many instances they are making no effort to pay back. These Bills provide long-needed incentives for people to repay their debt to the Commonwealth taxpayer, so that we can keep supporting those who need welfare assistance the most.”
“If people have received social security, family assistance, paid parental leave or student payments that they are not entitled to, then their debts should be recovered wherever reasonable and possible,” Mr Porter said. “It is disturbing that individuals have in some cases deliberately cheated taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and virtually nothing has been done to recover the debt.”
Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, said the Department of Human Services will be tasked with recouping the debts.
“The Bills being introduced today will target former welfare recipients who have accrued a debt,” Mr Tudge said.
“We will be targeting those who have the means to repay their debt, but refuse to enter into and honour an acceptable repayment arrangement.
“I urge people to follow up on the letter and talk to staff at Centrelink about their ability to pay off their debt, over time.
“In cases of severe financial hardship, a thorough review of a debtor’s capacity to repay will be considered.”