QCOSS Policy Statement – Centrelink debt issues (February 2017)

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This policy statement has been developed in response to the issues below, with information provided by QCOSS Members, community legal centres, the welfare rights network and the network of national, state and territory Councils of Social Service. Minimal public statements or information has been released by the Australian Government.

As part of the 2016/17 Federal Budget, the government identified $4 billion of savings to be achieved through recuperation of overpayments made through the income support system.

Since July 2016 the Australian Government has ramped up the system for identifying possible fraud by cross-referencing data from Centrelink with other areas of government, principally employment data from the Australian Tax Office. The fully automated system, known as an Online Compliance Intervention System, is examining records from up to six years ago although legislation has been passed that removes any statute of limitations on investigations.

There are 20,000 letters being issued a week, an increase from the 20,000 a year issued with the previous system. Almost 170,000 notices of potential overpayment have been issued since July 2016.

The system does not appear to be able to accurately match the periods of work with the periods of benefit receipt.  It instead appears to be using automated methods such as averaging income across the 26 fortnights of the year in question, creating false impressions of double payments.

The Government has not provided any information on the number of people affected.

Actions to be undertaken by the Australian Government

  • QCOSS calls on the Australian Government to:
    • suspend the current scheme including any further action against individuals who have been affected
    • ensure the scheme is independently reviewed including cases of individuals already affected
    • convene a roundtable of stakeholders to ensure that those affected receive the information, support and assistance they need to address the issue, and
    • ensure Centrelink is adequately resourced to support all operations including any future debt recovery actions.

Read the full statement here (PDF version)

Read the full statement here (Word version)

Client assistance is available at Basic Rights Queensland

QCOSS is currently partnering with UQ for a research project which will investigate the impact that Robodebt has on people from a wide range of backgrounds. If you would like more information, or to participate, please click here.

17 February 2017 | Focus area: