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Centrelink 'An Unworkable Mess', Employee Tells Robodebt Inquiry

28 March 2017
Josh Butler
Huffington Post

Submissions to the inquiry closed last week. The inquiry's webpage cites nearly 70 submissions have been received, and around 30 are available to view online, from Centrelink clients as well as from welfare advocacy bodies and the Department of Human Services. Centrelink clients gave evidence about their experiences with the debt collection system, including:

  • "I was then told that I was effectively a criminal who'd committed fraud... I'd reported all my income at the time and I was being told I was a liar, and this person who'd called me... was alleging all sorts of nasty things about my person and character."
  • "I felt pressured and stressed and was also made unproductive."
  • "I felt harassed by the deluge of private phone calls that didn't leave messages on my voicemail during both work hours and personal hours without any notice."
  • "I started thinking about which of my personal possessions I could sell to pay the debt, if I could survive without my car as I wouldn't be able to pay rego if I had to pay Centrelink."
  • "This just fed into the learned powerlessness and depression from long term poverty that I have tried so hard to escape my whole life."

One submission, claiming to be from a current employee of the Department of Human Services, called Centrelink's current debt collection process "an unworkable mess".

"I am a DHS employee and we are suffering greatly having to work on flawed programs like the robodebt," the person wrote.

"We are having to rush unsuitable for purpose systems out the door that meet an [executive's] view of how something should be delivered but we are not doing serious end user feedback work to see if what we actually make is fit for purpose. The staff are barely getting by and the system is structurally broken and has been designed such that no officer can end to end help a member of the public."

[...]

a submission by the DHS employees of Community and Public Sector Union also outlined staff complaints about the debt collection program.

"One DHS social worker stated that 'never before this year, have I seen as many distressed clients concerned about these potential debts'," the CPSU said in its submission.

"Seven in ten (70.8 percent) [of CPSU DHS employees] believe the response of the Department, once problems with the OCI program and its impact on customers became known, was inadequate. Two in five (43.3 percent) believe it was negligent and a third dishonest (36.3 percent)."

The full list of submissions can be found here.