The Independent Member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, urged the Federal Government to call to heel Centrelink which is generating numerous incorrect debt notices and frightening the community with heavy-handed tactics and debt collectors.
Centrelink has begun using a new automated system that matches government payments to tax records to identify fraud or overpayments worth up to $4 billion.
However based on complaints to his office, Mr Wilkie said the new IT system was spitting out numerous incorrect debt notices among the $4.5 million compliance notices produced daily.
“I have no problem with the Government retrieving genuine overpayments or cracking down on fraud,” Mr Wilkie said. “But I do have grave concerns with Centrelink acting like loan sharks and treating people as guilty until proven innocent and sending in the debt collectors.”
Mr Wilkie said his office has heard from distraught and terrified people wrongly receiving debt notices of up to $6500 that date back as far as 2010. They are given three weeks to provide documentation to Centrelink to prove they were not overpaid. If they have changed address, they may not even receive the debt notice.
“These people can explain why they were not overpaid, but are struggling to lay their hands on the documents to prove it as the so-called debt dates back years and in some cases their employers have gone out of business,’’ Mr Wilkie said. “How many of us could lay our hands on a pay slip from six years ago?”
Mr Wilkie said if people could not prove the debt was incorrect, they have to pay up or risk a visit from the debt collector.
“Clearly this new IT system is badly designed and must be sorted out,” Mr Wilkie said. “The Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, should drop his Grinch act and suspend the program until Centrelink is confident of its system integrity. We don’t treat people as guilty until proven innocent in Australia, unless you’re Centrelink it seems.
“If Minister Tudge does not act, the program will be exposed as another cruel and ideological attack from the Liberal Government on the nation’s vulnerable and disadvantaged.”