We do not oppose data matching per se or debt recovery when overpayments have occurred. But the Councils of Social Service expect accuracy, due process, respectful engagement, careful use and a tailored approach. The onus of proof of a debt should be on Centrelink. The approach so far would not be acceptable in a private credit provider and should not be used by the government. Read ACOSS' statement.
Centrelink has demonstrably failed in its duty of care to ensure accurate information is provided to recipients of income support.
The 10% recovery fee appears to be systematically applied to debts when it should only apply where people knowingly or recklessly give false information to Centrelink.
The debt recovery scheme is flawed because it has not taken into account the way people work in a flexible labour market. Over a million people move in an out of a job over a 12 month period and will be eligible during that time to access income support payments whilst they are out of work. The links between the flexible labour market and the debt recovery scheme are explored in our opinion piece 'Political & administrative integrity casualties of the flexible labour market'.
Letter to Minister Seselja
In December 2016 ACOSS asked Minister Tudge to suspend the program until problems are fixed. As we have not heard a response from Minister Tudge, ACTCOSS wrote to Minister Seselja on 13 January 2017 seeking the following information:
- Immediately suspend issuing correspondence to former and current income support recipients until these problems have been addressed
- Waive recovery fees in all cases
- Place on hold automated actions in matters already commenced, and get the Department to make personal contact with people already affected to advise them that they have extended the timeframe to update their details and to discuss their individual circumstances
- Convene a stakeholder roundtable early in 2017 that brings together key groups representing the interests of income support recipients to discuss:
- How we can work with you and the Department on what needs to be done to prevent the range of serious problems in the current automated approach to overpayments and debt collection through data matching
- How to co-design with stakeholders representing the interests of income support recipients future engagement approaches that are planned as part of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT).
Support for people affected
- National Welfare Rights Network – A network of community legal centres throughout Australia which specialise in social security law. This service is free. They have also published info for people affected by debt recovery, such as a factsheet providing information about what to do if you have a received a debt letter
- Legal Aid Commissions – Your local legal aid commission can give you information and advice
- Your local community legal centre – Provides legal information and advice. Most services are free
- Commonwealth Ombudsman – Assists the public by investigating and resolving complaints about Government departments and agencies (and has launched an investigation into the automated debt recovery system).
- ACOSS also suggests that you contact your Local Member of Federal Parliament to let them know how this has affected you
- Lifeline 13 11 14 – A national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.