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Centrelink robo-debt: public servants removed for asking too many questions, says Andrew Wilkie

16 January 2017

Centrelink public servants who ask too many questions about their agency's controversial "robo-debt" recovery effort are being "managed" out of debt recovery units, according to independent MP Andrew Wilkie.
The Tasmanian independent also alleges public servants are being played against each other by managers, competing for the highest daily quota of debt notices.

Centrelink debt recovery scheme - It’s time to repair our broken welfare system

16 January 2017
Australian Association of Social Workers

Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system and its policies of coercion and confusion are causing significant distress to many disadvantaged Australians, the Vice-President of the Australian Association of Social Workers, Christine Craik, said today.
“People look to their government for support, not intimidation,” Ms Craik said.

Man Spends 30 Hours Disputing False $5500 Centrelink Debt

16 January 2017
Huffington Post

The story of Ian and Jane, from Adelaide, highlights more of the difficulties faced by people caught up in Centrelink's so-called "robo debt" program. Automated data-matching software links up Centrelink records with information from other government agencies like the Australian Taxation Office, and if discrepancies between data is detected -- which can range from full-on fraud and incorrect income reporting, to record-keeping errors where the different agencies refer to the same business by two different names -- the Centrelink recipient is asked to provide more information. In many cases, this leads to a large debt being levelled against the client for overpayment by Centrelink, which the client is told to pay back within mere weeks.

National Social Security Rights Network calls for suspension of Centrelink online debt system and a new approach

16 January 2017
National Social Security Rights Network

As a result of our experience helping people respond to the new system so far, we support widespread calls to suspend its use unless and until concerns about it are addressed. We oppose any further roll-out of the system to other forms of data-matching at this time.
Our fundamental concern is that the new system creates an inherent and unacceptably high risk that a person may accept and repay an incorrectly raised debt. This risk is not adequately addressed by the present system. This is also leading to unacceptable levels of distress and worry among people affected and more can and should be done to reduce this.

[PDF: http://www.welfarerights.org.au/sites/default/files/news/NSSRN%20stateme...

A statement regarding the Government’s Centrelink backflip that looks like a bellyflop - Wilkie

16 January 2017
Andrew Wilkie MP Independent Member for Denison

The Government’s indication it will modify the Centrelink debt recovery program, while a concession of sorts that there are problems, misses the point which is that the program is deeply flawed and must be shut down immediately.

Bill Shorten's skin is so thick it puts a rhino's to shame

16 January 2017
The Age

What is it about us, what kind of bongo juice are we on when we fall for some schmaltzy rubbish suggesting that everyone should be allowed to keep overpayments?
This whole debate is a Groundhog Day for me. I once had the welfare portfolio and there were inevitably occasions when people had overpayments and were expected to repay them. There was always the possibility to pay back over time, but many took umbrage at having to pay anything at all. Many in the media, and just about everyone in opposition, played it for all it was worth. The department, Centrelink and the government were always portrayed as mean and nasty people who just wanted to give welfare recipients the boot.

‘Backflip’ over Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program

16 January 2017
The Australian

The government has been accused of “backflipping” over Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program after it decided to give the system a facelift, as Labor demands improvements be made retrospective to include all affected welfare recipients.
Labor frontbencher Linda Burney declared Human Services Minister Alan Tudge had made a “stunning admission” after The Australian revealed he had directed his department to introduce a number of “refinements” as he attempts to deal with the political fallout.

Letter to Commonwealth Ombudsman

16 January 2017
Andrew Wilkie MP Independent Member for Denison

Thank you for investigating the debt notices that are currently being generated by the Department of Human Services.
I have now been approached by several current and ex-Centrelink employees who have recently left the Department due to the new debt recovery program. I am deeply concerned by what these employees have told me and summarise the information conveyed to me below:

Anglicare dealing with fallout from Centrelink clawback

16 January 2017
Tasmania Talks - Radio

Meg Webb, Manager of Anglicare's Social Action & Research Centre shares with Brian Carlton how the clawback has affected those using Anglicare's services. "If we're hearing [stories] through the people involved in our services, there's going to be many, many more out there in the broader community, who are also impacted by this debacle and may not have places to turn for help and support," Ms. Webb says.

Government concedes ground on Centrelink debt letters, as its popularity plunges

16 January 2017
New Daily

The Turnbull government will make a series of changes to Centrelink’s controversial debt recovery system after weeks of politically damaging criticism.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has instructed his department to amend the recovery process.
This is despite the government’s continued insistence that the computer-run scheme, which claws back alleged overpayments, is a success.

Coalition hits new low and Greens trail One Nation in poll showing Centrelink anger

16 January 2017

One Nation gains ground in GetUp poll that finds 46.2% want Centrelink automated debt collection halted, compared with 31.8% who want to keep it.
The Turnbull government has hit a new low in its two-party preferred vote and the Greens trail One Nation in a fresh poll that also shows widespread anger at the Centrelink debt debacle.
The ReachTel poll of 2,126 Australians for the progressive political campaign group GetUp shows the Coalition trailing Labor 46% to 54% in two-party preferred terms.

Government To Start Fixing Centrelink Debt System They Insist Isn't Broken

16 January 2017
Pedestrian Daily

"I'm not aware of individuals who are completely convinced that they don't owe money but have been given a debt notice." -- Human Services Minister Alan Tudge
Despite being unaware of that happening, Tudge is now enforcing changes to ensure that it stops, with the Centrelink process being adjusted so that debts will not be transferred to debt recovery agencies until after the client is aware of the supposed debt.

Centrelink's controversial debt collection system to undergo revamp after Australians were slapped with false debts

16 January 2017
Daily Mail Australia

The controversial Centrelink debt-collection program is getting a makeover.
But the Malcolm Turnbull government is standing by the system even as it threatens to erode voter support for the Liberals.
The Department of Human Services is making cosmetic changes to the letters sent to thousands of Australians asking welfare recipients to prove that past payments were not made in error.

The Government Copped A Beating In New Poll Over Centrelink Debt Shitstorm

15 January 2017
pedestrian TV

A new poll by Reachtel, commissioned by GetUp! and taken before Sussan Ley's resignation, finds that the politician expense scandals and the Centrelink nightmare are not getting the government's year off to good start. According to the poll, Labor leads the Coalition 54-46 on a two-party preferred basis.
The poll focused heavily on the Centrelink issue, with 46.2% of people saying they want the debt collection suspended, compared to only 36.2% who want to keep it. The rest are undecided.