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Centrelink: Social Services Minister Christian Porter defends debt recovery system

3 January 2017

Some recipients are required to supply paperwork from up to five years ago, but Mr Porter said that applied to a "very small number" of people.
He added that the system had recovered $300 million since the start of the financial year.
"What this system is doing is raising real debts around real overpayments based on real cross referencing of evidence," he said.

But Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney said it should be suspended, citing "inherent problems right across the system".
[...]Ms Burney today tweeted that the system needed to "get it right before threatening people", referencing the #notmydebt social media campaign launched in response to Centrelink.

Here's The Lowdown On The Centrelink Debt Crackdown Shitstorm

3 January 2017
Pedestrian Daily

The minister in charge of this nightmare, Alan Tudge, is currently enjoying an extended Christmas break. In his absence, Social Services Minister Christian Porter has appeared on the ABC and claimed that the system is actually working extremely well, and that they have received a low number of complaints for the 169,000 letters that were sent out last month.

"These are not debt letters," he told the ABC. "They are polite letters, the initial letter that goes to the welfare recipient saying that an issue has arisen, that there may be a discrepancy and we require some further information."

So what's actually going on, where are these letters coming from, and what the hell should you do if you've got one?

Commonwealth defends Centrelink data matching bungle as working 'incredibly well'

3 January 2017

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter has kicked off 2017 by defending the new automated debt recovery process implemented by Centrelink, which has seen some letters demanding money repayment sent in error to welfare recipients.
Speaking on ABC RN Breakfast on Tuesday, Porter stated that of the 169,000 letters sent out to welfare recipients in Australia since the start of the financial year, only 276 complaints have been received by Centrelink -- a complaint rate running at 0.16 percent.

Welfare recipients told to pay back false Centrelink debt

1 January 2017

Centrelink recipients across the country are being told to pay back false debts sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars because of a faulty computer algorithm.
The issue came to light in national headlines earlier this month and those affected by it are sharing their stories across social media.
An estimated 20,000 welfare recipients are being targeted each week by the algorithm, which uses data supplied by organisations such as the Australian Tax Office to match the information recipients give to Centrelink.

Welfare pinch hits hard as pension cuts and tougher rules affect thousands of Tasmanians

31 December 2016
Sunday Tasmanian

Pension cuts and tougher compliance measures for welfare recipients will hit thousands of Tasmanians from today.

Unions estimate the pension cuts will strip $30 million from the state’s economy each year, with more than 7860 pensioners affected by the stricter assets tests.

New year law changes to affect pensioners, students, parents and backpackers

30 December 2016
Guardian

Tougher compliance measures come into force for people receiving welfare payments, and the six-year statutory limit on retrieving overpayments will be removed. Automated data matching introduced in July for retrieving welfare debts has come under attack in recent weeks for its alleged unfairness and inaccuracy.
Prohibition orders are introduced to stop some welfare debtors leaving the country.

Centrelink rorts crackdown could hit regional people hard, Bendigo MP says

30 December 2016
Bendigo Advertiser

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters believes Centrelink’s new automated debt recovery system could unfairly target people in regional areas due to poorer communication services.
[...]
It has raised $300 million in overpayments for the government following 169,000 reviews.
But Ms Chesters said it was a flawed system that failed to take into account a number of factors for those living in regional areas.
“Over the Christmas period I was contacted by several people who had their payments suspended. For most of them it appeared to be no fault of their own,” she said. “Quite often people do not know they have to attend an appointment because appointment letters have not arrived before the scheduled appointment or a text message telling them to attend an appointment, they attend only to be told no appointment exists. Days later their payments are suspended for a ‘failure to attend’.
It's unfair to suspended a payment if you don't know you have to attend an appointment.”

Even though it's an error, I have to start repaying my 'debt': Centrelink debt victims share their stories

30 December 2016
Guardian

This week, Guardian Australia has continued to receive complaints about Centrelink’s new method of retrieving welfare debts, which relies on an automated data matching process criticised as crude and unfair.
Now, a handful of the thousands of Australians caught up in the government’s crackdown share their experience of being unfairly targeted.

Labor calls for ‘flawed’ Centrelink automated overpayments alert to be switched off

30 December 2016
The Courier-Mail

Labor’s acting social services spokesman Doug Cameron has called for the automated system to be turned off.
“It seems to us this is a very crude and inaccurate way of dealing with potential violations of people seeking payments from the welfare system,” Senator Cameron said.
He said Labor has no time for rorters and cross-checking should be done, provided it is accurate. Senator Cameron said a Centrelink staffer has blown the whistle on the automated system, saying it was “flawed”, “overly harsh” and “error prone”.

Centrelink debt notices based on 'idiotic' faith in big data, IT expert says

30 December 2016
Guardian

IT and data expert Justin Warren […] said Centrelink’s system appeared to rest on the “idiotic” assumption that “big data was magic”.
“It’s not. It’s a messy, complex, statistical system that is wrong a lot,” Warren said. “All models are wrong, but some are useful. It’s the choice of how you deal with when the system is wrong that reveals how you view the world.”

Government backs Centrelink debt system despite 'incorrect' $24,000 demand

29 December 2016
Guardian

The system has been described as a “drag net”, which sends out about 20,000 notices a week that effectively reverse the onus of proof onto welfare recipients. 
Many individuals do not receive the initial letter from Centrelink, due to either a change of address or the lack of a MyGov account. If no dispute is made, the government takes it to mean that the debt is accurate. 
The government is charging 10% debt recovery fees, and [human services minister, Alan Tudge] has threatened those who do not pay with jail. Many problems appear to stem from the comparison of annual pay information reported to the tax office with the income reported to Centrelink fortnightly. 
Labor, [Independent MP Andrew Wilkie], and the Australian Council for Social Service (Acoss) have all called for the system to be temporarily suspended pending an investigation into the complaints.

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