Centrelink staff have spoken privately about being encouraged to work overtime to meet debt notice quotas, Denison independent MHR Andrew Wilkie has claimed.
Before January 1, Centrelink debts expired if the agency ignored them for six years. Now it can pursue them at any time like the Tax Office, but within the agency there is confusion about the implications.
There’s apparently a view in the agency that now there is nothing stopping the automated compliance program from going back through tax and welfare records “indefinitely” to find new debts to raise.
A screenshot from Lifeline’s database leaked to BuzzFeed News shows the organisation has created a new category in its database for counsellors speaking with clients about “Centrelink Automatic Debt Recovery”.
As impossible as it sounds, the Centrelink debt fiasco has spiralled even further out of control.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who has been calling on the government to halt the automatic debt recovery system, today published evidence from Centrelink whistleblowers documenting damning flaws in the debt recovery process.
Thank you for investigating the debt notices that are currently being generated by the Department of Human Services.
I have now been approached by several current and ex-Centrelink employees who have recently left the Department due to the new debt recovery program. I am deeply concerned by what these employees have told me and summarise the information conveyed to me below:
The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, will reveal the shocking inside story of the flawed Centrelink debt grab that includes staff being set daily debt notice quotas and urged to work overtime and compete to haul in the most debts.
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."
The staff tasked with adminstering Centrelink’s “robo-debt” system are under huge pressure too and are demanding an immediate halt to the punitive approach.
A Centrelink worker told Green Left Weekly that the system was implemented without staff being trained and that they were ill equipped to explain the debts.
“We haven’t been told anything about how the robo-debt system works,” they said. “We have just been instructed to direct people to the MyGov website. We have been finding out the specifics about how the debts are generated by listening to Hack [the Triple J afternoon news program] or reading articles on social media.”
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.
“Centrelink is letting me die,” reads graffiti scrawled on the wall of the disabled toilet at a branch in Sydney’s inner west.
That’s the perception of some Australians trying to negotiate a benefits system that appears seriously flawed, where letters slamming people with bogus debts of thousands of dollars were widely distributed over the Christmas period.