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 call follows Human Services Minister Alan Tudge’s comments on Wednesday that the system would be retained, despite hundreds of complaints from people alleging they have incorrectly received debt notifications.
He defended the debt recovery scheme, which seeks to recover $4 billion in budget savings and has generated 170,000 notices of potential overpayment since July.
“The system is working and we will continue with that system,” Tudge told the ABC.
“I’m not aware of individuals who are completely convinced that they don’t owe money but have been given a debt notice.”
Welfare organisations have criticised the process, which uses automated data matching to check records of people’s income, without staff involvement or oversight.
CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Dr John Falzon said the government’s response to the “debacle” was “extremely disappointing”.
“The government appears to be in deliberate denial about the effects of this debacle on people’s lives,” Falzon told Pro Bono News.
“But more to the point, the government doesn’t seem to understand that Centrelink is an agency that should be properly resourced so that people can be helped, rather than being used in this absolutely abominable manner of trying to take away from those who have the least in order to give the government an opportunity to avoid making sure that those who have the most pay their fair share."