In looking to reclaim $4.6 billion of welfare debt over four years, the Government has pushed ahead with a system that many welfare recipients are claiming is fundamentally flawed.
In some cases the discrepancies can date back six years, yet customers are given only 14 or 21 days to provide the necessary information. This can be difficult due to them not having access to the necessary paperwork, the inability to access Centrelink’s online services, speak to someone over the phone or visit an office in person.
This is where a debt recovery notice being raised for those who do not respond within the stipulated timeframe compounds the issue. Once a debt recovery notice has been issued, Centrelink’s system can’t be amended, even if the customer can disprove the debt.
In some cases, those issued with a debt recovery notice are being advised to start repaying the debt until an internal review can be carried out. And to add insult to injury, are being charged a 10 per cent debt recovery fee for the privilege.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie claims to have been contacted by more than 100 terrified people who had received letters or debt recovery notices, four of whom said they were considering suicide.
Labor has called for the automated system to be halted until such time as the glitch can be rectified. Speaking to Fairfax Media, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said, "This farce has to end. This stuff-up has delivered a summer from hell for thousands of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong.