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Leaked Centrelink memo shows staff told not to process debt disputes in person

12 January 2017
ABC News

Centrelink management has ordered frontline staff working in branches not to process disputes over the Federal Government's controversial debt claw-back scheme and instead refer welfare recipients to an online portal.
An internal Centrelink memo obtained by 7.30 said staff "should refer customers online to undertake the intervention" and "must not process activities in relation to the Online Compliance Intervention".
The instructions, available on Centrelink's internal communications system, also told staff in bold text: "Do not cancel the activity under any circumstances."

Coalition was aware of Centrelink debt recovery flaws

12 January 2017
The New Daily

The Government knew Centrelink’s debt recovery program would incorrectly tell clients they owed money if human oversight was reduced, but continued to do so in a bid to cut costs.
Cost-benefit analysis of the Centrelink program — which compares employment data from the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink — found more than 860,000 clients were wrongly told they had debts between 2010 and 2013.
The debt recovery program had human oversight during these years but more than 1 million discrepancies were found, with an average debt value of $1,400 per person.

The screenshots that show why Centrelink is broken

12 January 2017

The 33-year-old dad from Adelaide received a letter telling him his family tax benefits would be cut if he did not update his details within two weeks. But his repeated efforts to speak to a human between January 5 and 8 all failed.
He wasn’t put on hold, or offered a callback service. The line is supposed to be open Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm. When he visited a branch, he was told to use the phone or website, the latter of which he has been unable to do.

Centrelink And The Mystery Of The $4 Billion

12 January 2017
Eigen Magic

I’ve been digging into the financial justifications for the automation effort, and it’s a convoluted beast. The numbers being bandied about sound good in a headline, but figuring out the real numbers has been surprisingly difficult. Little wonder that the stories containing any of the figures, particularly the ones used by Ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, are confusing at best.
Here’s my attempt to unravel what’s really going on here. I’ll provide links to primary sources, rather than media reports, where I can.

Tudge fudging the numbers on Centrelink robo debt debacle

12 January 2017
The Hon Linda Burney MP, Shadow Minister for Human Services, ALP Member for Barton

The Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, still isn’t across the detail of his bungled robo debt recovery program, contradicting his senior minister and his own department.
Linda Burney, Shadow Minister for Human Services, raised concerns following a number of confused and inconsistent statements made by Mr Tudge since he returned from holidays just this week.

Centrelink seeks advanced customer aggression training, prepares Watson for the front lines

12 January 2017
The Mandarin

As the pressure ramps up on Human Services Minister Allan Tudge over Centrelink’s most recent attempts to claw back billions paid out through the welfare system, the department is putting together a new procurement panel for “advanced customer aggression training” and preparing to roll out front-line virtual assistants.

Centrelink data system to be ‘refined’

12 January 2017
The Australian

Centrelink’s controversial data-matching program will be ­“refined”, as the Turnbull government tries to deflect mounting political pressure from welfare groups and Labor for it to be suspend­ed.
The Australian Council of Social­ Service yesterday joined the federal opposition in calling for a halt to the scheme and an inde­pendent review, declaring that the automated debt-recovery prog­ram was treating current and past Centrelink recipients “like second­-class citizens”.

Editorial: Centrelink cuts hurting the neediest

12 January 2017
The Mercury

IT appears it will be some time before anyone from Centrelink or the Turnbull Government admits it, but Centrelink’s effort to recover “debt” from tens of thousands of welfare recipients has been poorly conceived and executed.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge was yesterday continuing to insist that “the system is working”.

Alan Tudge says Centrelink may check letters received before debt imposed

11 January 2017

Alan Tudge says he may attempt to change the law to ensure letters being sent by Centrelink’s controversial automated debt system are actually being received before a debt is imposed.
The human services minister, speaking with Guardian Australia on Wednesday, continued to defend the controversial debt recovery system, which has been the subject of repeated complaints accusing it of inaccuracy and unfairness.
But he said he was looking at changes to ensure initial letters demanding welfare recipients explain income discrepancies were actually being received before debts were imposed.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge defiant over Centrelink debt debacle

11 January 2017

It was a defiant Human Services Minister Alan Tudge who fronted the media today for the first time since the Centrelink debt-recovery saga began.
Labor has called for the system to be suspended to prevent further stress and hardship, but Mr Tudge says that won't be happening because the debt recovery system is working as it should be.

Man On Hold With Centrelink For 6 Hours Relieved To Hear System Actually Working Perfectly

11 January 2017
SBS The Backburner

A man who has been sitting on hold with Centrelink for the past six hours attempting to address a $6,000 debt that had automatically been assigned to him is reportedly relieved to hear Social Services Minister Alan Tudge say that the system is working exactly as expected.

MINISTER: There's nothing wrong with Centrelink debt letters so we're not stopping them

11 January 2017
Business Insider Australia

It seems Centrelink’s data-matching woes will continue, with the federal human services minister digging his heels in and refusing to scrap the controversial system.
Coalition minister Alan Tudge, who returned to work from holidays this week, told ABC Radio National this morning that the “system is working” and that the debt recovery process would continue.

Vinnies urges government to stop 'intimidating' poor Centrelink customers to pay off its own deficit

11 January 2017
Business Insider Australia

Catholic social services organisation St Vincent de Paul Society has called on the federal government to not use Centrelink as “a weapon of deficit destruction”.
“Centrelink should not be used by the government as a blunt weapon to achieve a deficit reduction on the backs of people who already carry the greatest burden of inequality,” said St Vincent de Paul national council CEO Dr John Falzon.
The charity has demanded that Centrelink’s data-matching system – which has been responsible for thousands of false debt notification letters — be suspended while its shortcomings are ironed out.

Centrelink debt letter surge to resume as government promises tweaks to the system

11 January 2017

Centrelink will resume posting controversial debt recovery letters to thousands of Australians, as Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has defended efforts to recoup incorrect welfare payments and denied the agency made fundamental errors.
Standard procedures saw a halt to initial letters being sent to welfare recipients on December 3 last year, but thousands of Australians have reported receiving debt demands over the Christmas and New Year period, including some for tens of thousands of dollars.

Note to Centrelink: Australian workers’ lives have change

11 January 2017
The Conversation

Centrelink’s new automated data-matching system is a source of ongoing controversy. It has resulted in a significant increase in the number of current and former welfare recipients assessed as having been overpaid and required to repay debts.
But debt problems do not really appear to be the fault of IT failure or the inappropriate use of big data. Rather, they appear to reflect an over-simplistic application of policy to the complexity of workers’ lives in a flexible labour market.