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We put too much trust in algorithms and it's hurting our most vulnerable

29 December 2016
MashableAustralia

Launched in July, the system was intended to streamline the detection of overpayments made to welfare recipients and automatically issue notices of any discrepancies.
The media and Reddit threads have since been inundated with complaints from people who say they are being accused of being "welfare cheats" without cause, thanks to faulty data.
The trouble lies with the algorithm's apparent difficulty accurately matching tax office data with Centrelink records, according to the Guardian, although department spokesperson Hank Jongen told Mashable it remains "confident" in the system.

Labor calls for Centrelink's 'crude and inaccurate' automated debt recovery system to be scrapped

29 December 2016
SMH

[Labor's acting human services spokesman Doug Cameron] slammed the government for using a "dragnet approach" to welfare recovery for thousands of Australians.
"This is a crude and inaccurate approach with data matching, it's very crude and very inaccurate and we think it should stop," he said on ABC radio. [...] Senator Cameron said Centrelink should urgently review the process to avoid further mistakes.
"We think it should be scrapped or certainly it should be suspended because we've already got a Centrelink whistleblower who manages this program saying it is grossly unfair, flawed and overly harsh, error prone and compliance staff have no discretion to deal with the issues."
[...]
"We'll find you, we'll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison," [Human Services Minister Alan Tudge] told Channel Nine.

New Centrelink glitch could leave you in serious debt

29 December 2016
Starts At 60

RMIT University academic Dr Kay Cook said the automated system placed an unfair onus on welfare recipients, of which many were already vulnerable.
“It’s setting up a David versus Goliath situation where people need to take on the federal government to remedy the situation,” Dr Cook told The New Daily.
“For people in the benefits system, who are the most vulnerable, the balance of power in that and the responsibility for correct payments is completely wrong."

Centrelink's Shithouse Debt Recovery System Is *STILL* Fucking People Over

28 December 2016
Pedestrian Daily

Centrelink's joint data-matching program with the ATO has so far done a wonderful job, if the area it was designed to perform in was falsely accusing people of accruing massive debts some time in the last decade. Just in case that's not clear: it was not designed to do that (as far as we're aware), and is, in fact, horrible.

Call to suspend Centrelink system after single mother receives $24,000 debt notice

28 December 2016
Guardian

On Tuesday Labor’s human services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, wrote to the government asking for a suspension of Centrelink’s new automated compliance system, saying it must stop accusing people of serious wrongdoing and charging recovery fees until it could be certain the system was targeting the right people.

Centrelink officer says only a fraction of debts in welfare crackdown are genuine

23 December 2016

A Centrelink compliance officer has broken ranks to describe the government’s crackdown on welfare debts as grossly unfair, saying its new automated compliance system is flawed and overly harsh on those on sickness benefits.
[...]
The Centrelink compliance officer, who asked for anonymity, told Guardian Australia the system was error-prone but that most customers were paying debts without checking them first. The source said of the hundreds of cases they had reviewed, only about 20 (at a “generous estimate”) turned out to be genuine debts.

We have a social security problem, but not the one you think

23 December 2016
LinkedIn

It’s inconceivable that the tax office would ever use such a flawed system to levy tax debts to corporations, so it’s hard to understand why it’s acceptable for Centrelink to do so. I agree with ACOSS that the system should be suspended until concerns are addressed.
Anyone alleged to have a Centrelink debt because of this new system (or indeed for any reason) should consider challenging that decision.

Thousands of people forced to pay back part of their welfare payments due to suspected computer glitch

21 December 2016

Some doing it tough have been incorrectly referred to debt collectors due to a suspected glitch in Centrelink’s computer system, which has sparked a string of complaints from people being accused of owing Centrelink up to $10,000.
The computer system was put in place six months ago, and it went from sending 20,000 letters a year asking for people to pay back money, to 20,000 letters a week.

Ombudsman asked to investigate if Centrelink wrongly pursuing welfare debts

21 December 2016

Independent Andrew Wilkie first raised concerns about the system two weeks ago, saying it was wrongly slugging welfare recipients with debt notices of thousands of dollars.
Wilkie said his office had since been inundated with complaints from vulnerable families.
He has now written to the commonwealth ombudsman requesting an investigation, and to the human services minister, Alan Tudge, urging him to intervene.

Centrelink shambles must be fixed before Christmas

21 December 2016
Andrew Wilkie MP

The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, called on the Federal Government to urgently fix Centrelink’s automated debt collection system before Christmas.

“It’s been over two weeks since I raised the fact that Centrelink’s new IT system was spitting out numerous incorrect debt notices,” Mr Wilkie said. “The Federal Government and the Minister personally should have swiftly intervened to suspend the system until the problems are sorted out, but so far they’ve done nothing.”

Fears Centrelink online glitch may send welfare recipients to debt collectors

19 December 2016
Guardian

The government has intensified its efforts to retrieve debts from low-income Australians since mid-2015, when it began using a new automated data-matching system to detect overpayments. Since the system was introduced the number of compliance letters being sent by Centrelink has jumped from 20,000 a year to 20,000 a week.
Recipients are given 21 days to dispute the debt online, forcing them to track down payslips and employment history from up to six years ago to prove they did not wrongly claim benefits.
“If you do not respond, it will be assumed no reasonable excuse applies and the 10% recovery fee may be added to the debt amount,” the letter warns. But problems with Centrelink’s online service have left some users unable to lodge a dispute.

Students accused of welfare fraud say Centrelink's sums are wrong

16 December 2016
triple j Hack

Former and current students say Centrelink is falsely accusing them of being welfare cheats and saddling them with thousands of dollars of debt. […] It's the result of a brand new system that matches the income you declared to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) with the income you declared to Centrelink. It's able to go as far back as 2010. When it detects a disparity, it automatically generates and dispatches a letter. For the Government, it's all about clawing back billions of dollars believed to have been incorrectly paid to welfare recipients.

The Department of Human Services, which operates Centrelink, says it is not aware of any problems with its new automated system. It also says there are no online access problems.

Despite these assurances, Independent Federal MP Andrew Wilkie is calling on Centrelink to shut the system down. He says he is hearing from "distraught and terrified" people hit with "incorrect" debt notices. Hack has heard similar stories. Wilkie says the system has "gone rogue".

'Please find attached amount owing - Merry Christmas!' Woman's cheeky response after Centrelink demands she repay a TWO CENT debt

15 December 2016
Daily Mail Australia

A woman has received a debt recovery letter from Centrelink telling her she's been overpaid and had to return the money.
But rather than a massive bill, the government agency was chasing Kerry King from Rowville, Victoria, for two cents.
So she paid up - by sending Centrelink a two cent coin.

Centrelink urged to stop collecting welfare debts after compliance system errors

14 December 2016

Independent Andrew Wilkie warned last week that his office was receiving reports the new system was generating debt notices in error. 
Wilkie said his office had now received several dozen reports from individuals who were wrongly told they owed money to Centrelink. 

He said one of the worst examples reported to his staff involved a man who suffered from anxiety, who was told he had a debt of $10,000. He said the man reported being suicidal.
Wilkie’s office queried the department and the debt was found to be wrong. Wilkie said Centrelink had actually owed the man $700. 

ACOSS criticises government's 'appalling' jail threats to welfare recipients

7 December 2016

Australia’s peak community services body has described the government’s repeated threats to jail welfare recipients as appalling, while reports emerge of flaws with a new automated system designed to detect overpayments.
The government has ramped up the rhetoric on welfare debt this week, warning that its new automated compliance system would allow it to easily and quickly detect overpayments.

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