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Ombudsman asked to investigate if Centrelink wrongly pursuing welfare debts

21 December 2016
Christopher Knaus

Complaints have continued to emerge this week about Centrelink’s new automated compliance system, which is being used to chase debts from welfare recipients at a vastly increased rate. 

The system relies on an automated data-matching process comparing income reported to Centrelink against information held by government agencies, including the Australian taxation office. 

Independent Andrew Wilkie first raised concerns about the system two weeks ago, saying it was wrongly slugging welfare recipients with debt notices of thousands of dollars. 

Wilkie said his office had since been inundated with complaints from vulnerable families. 

He has now written to the commonwealth ombudsman requesting an investigation, and to the human services minister, Alan Tudge, urging him to intervene. 

“People are terrified about how they will put food on the table or provide Christmas for their kids,” Wilkie said. “My office has spoken to people who are distraught because they have received a threatening letter warning of an enormous debt. Several people have even gone so far as to speak of suicide.”