Centrelink’s ongoing debt debacle has tarnished the agency’s reputation and sent staff morale into free fall, a longtime employee in the region said.
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."
Dispute process takes up to six weeks, but debts need repayment before that.
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.
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 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.
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.
Every minister in the federal government has been sent a letter saying they need to pay back thousands of dollars in entitlements, with the burden on the minister to prove otherwise.
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.
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.
Vinnies has joined the chorus of welfare organisations demanding the government suspend the Centrelink debt recovery system, saying it should not be viewed as a “weapon” of deficit reduction.
The government drastically reduced human oversight of Centrelink’s data-matching system despite holding internal analysis showing that 15% of detected discrepancies were not debts owed by people.
Policies that mitigate the stress of poverty and promote mental health would more effectively reduce the welfare burden than scaring individuals into paying back debts they're unlikely to have.
The Community and Public Sector Union has said the Centrelink debt recovery system has left the Australian public with a 'bad taste in their mouth', in response to the Coalition continuing to claim the system is 'working well'.
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”.
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 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.
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.
Alan Tudge, the minister responsible for Centrelink, has promised to stick with the agency's beleaguered automatic debt recovery system, saying the new system is getting results.
Hack has spoken to a number of welfare recipients who claim they were unfairly served with a debt notice, despite doing nothing wrong.
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.
The bungled Centrelink debt-recovery controversy has again come under fire with a Perth woman claiming she was hounded to pay back more than $26,000 she allegedly didn't owe.
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.
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 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.
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.