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Confusion in Centrelink about removal of six-year expiry date on debts

18 January 2017
The Mandarin

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.

Letter to Commonwealth Ombudsman

16 January 2017
Andrew Wilkie MP Independent Member for Denison

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:
[PDF]

Leaked Centrelink memo shows staff told not to process debt disputes in person

12 January 2017
ABC News

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."

Centrelink staff, union demand action on debt notices

11 January 2017
Green Left Weekly

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.”

Inside a Centrelink office: Chaos at branch as system flounders

10 January 2017
Herald Sun

“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.

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