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Centrelink debt recovery facelift

Centrelink’s controversial data-matching program is getting a facelift as the Turnbull government confronts a political backlash over complaints about the automated system, The Australian reports.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has directed his department to introduce a number of measures as he attempts to deal with the fallout, including adding Centrelink’s dedicated 1800 phone number in letters sent to welfare recipients who may want to seek advice about a debt repayment.

Alan TudgeAt the moment, the number is only advertised online.

The department has also been directed to simplify the language of letters it is sending out demanding that overpayments be reimbursed to make the message “clearer and more intuitive”.

In an important concession, welfare recipients will be given an opportunity to have an internal review into their payments before the debt-recovery process begins, provided they can prove it was the first notification they received.

Current practice is for debt ­repayment plans to start straight away.

Centrelink will also make greater efforts to ensure repayment demands are sent to a ­welfare recipient’s correct address, with cross-checking with electoral rolls and other databases.

The government wants to claw back $4 billion through the debt-recovery process to rein in the ­ballooning welfare bill.

Labor and the Australian Council of Social Service have called for a halt to the program and want Centrelink held responsible for investigating overpayments rather than shifting the onus of proof onto “vulnerable” welfare recipients.

Meanwhile, Catholic social services organisation St Vincent de Paul Society has called on the federal government to not use Centrelink as “a weapon of deficit destruction,” Business Insider adds.

“Centrelink should not be used by the government as a blunt weapon to achieve a deficit reduction on the backs of people who already carry the greatest burden of inequality,” said St Vincent de Paul national council CEO Dr John Falzon.

The charity has demanded that Centrelink’s data-matching system – which has been responsible for thousands of false debt notification letters — be suspended while its shortcomings are ironed out.

Falzon said “people should not be intimidated and hounded for money they do not owe”.

“The government has a responsibility to provide social and economic security to its people. This should not be delivered as if it were charity and should never become a means of profit. Nor should it be overshadowed and accompanied by humiliation and shame.”


Fallout over Centrelink’s debt-recovery program prompts facelift (The Australian)

Vinnies urges government to stop ‘intimidating’ poor Centrelink customers to pay off its own deficit (Business Insider)

Small image: Alan Tudge