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‘They called more than 10 times a day’: Sinister tactics of debt collectors paid millions by Centrelink

24 February 2017
news.com.au

It starts with a barrage of text messages telling you to urgently call a number. Then the persistent phone calls, sometimes more than ten a day.
Then come the letters telling you to pay “immediately” or risk “further recovery action”, including taking the money directly from your wages or bank account, or seizing your assets.
These mysterious antagonists are the debt collection companies paid millions by Centrelink to wage campaigns of harassment against unsuspecting Australians.

Centrelink's robo-copout

23 February 2017
Latrobe Valley Express

Churchill resident Kate Zizys can empathise with Centrelink clients affected by 'robo-debt' orders for money they may not owe.
Having been in the Centrelink system on and off for most of her adult life, Ms Zizys has been forced to make inflated repayments in the past, despite going to appeal.

Department paying the price

23 February 2017
Latrobe Valley Express

Morwell based Centrelink staff will be resisting the urge to say 'I told you so' after Labor and the Greens successfully lobbied for a senate inquiry into the Federal Government's maligned 'robo-debt' scheme.
In the past two years about 18 skilled Morwell staff have been transferred into other roles to make way for automated-debt calculation technology, which has since led to thousands of Centrelink clients facing repayments they do not owe.

Response to claims about the department’s use of external collection agents

22 February 2017
Australian Government Department of Human Services Media Hub

Claims made recently about the Department of Human Services’ use of external collection agents are inaccurate and require clarification.
Agencies who have been engaged by the department to recover debt from people will always ensure their operators clearly identify themselves as calling ‘on behalf of’ the department.

Ancient Skeleton Found Frozen In Ice Reportedly On Hold With Centrelink

21 February 2017
SBS comedy

Local authorities were shocked to discover that a pile of ancient human remains found in a shelf of ice and recovered today belong to an early human believed to have died while on hold to Centrelink, a call that remains on hold to this very day.
Those investigating the incident have claimed that they were surprised by the discovery:
“We knew wait times were bad,” one insider told The Backburner. “But this fella has been frozen for hundreds of years. Frankly, even if he has his debts sorted out his phone bill is going to be an absolute mess.

Q&A: Laughter as George Brandis says debt recovery notices can be fixed by contacting Centrelink

21 February 2017
ABC News

Attorney-General George Brandis has engaged in a heated discussion about offshore detention centres on Q&A, but it was the senator's suggestion wrongly issued debt recovery notices could be resolved by contacting Centrelink that drew one of the biggest audience responses.
The program had heard from Lyndsey Jackson, the creator of a website for people who had wrongly received letters as part of the debt recovery scheme, who said hundreds of people were suffering anxiety as they were forced to disprove the claims.

Centrelink debt system: government knew of error risks 'for decades'

17 February 2017
Guardian

The man who led the first audit of Centrelink data-matching in 1999 says the government has known for decades that the process was prone to error without human oversight.
John Mayger, a retired auditor with the Department of Social Services, said his audit showed that detecting overpayments through data-matching was problematic without a high degree of staff vetting to provide an effective balance.

Centrelink boss Kathryn Campbell flies in for meeting with unhappy Tasmanian staff

17 February 2017
Mercury

The Mercury understands that the meeting was held in the Hobart Town Hall and Ms Campbell is in the state for three hours.
Community Public Service Union Tasmania secretary Paul Blake said Ms Campbell has held similiar question and answer sessions around the country.
Mr Blake said staff questions are vetted beforehand.
The controversial robo-debt policy and protracted staff wage negotiations are the source of growing frustration among union members, he said.

The wait continues at Centrelink and tips to navigate it

17 February 2017
The Age

Centrelink's phone lines are about to get better… no really, they're meant to, but you just have to wait a little longer for it to happen.
That's the line I'm getting from the Department of Human Services, which has copped a hammering in recent weeks over the government's controversial robo debt recovery scheme and its high error rates in clawing back overpaid welfare payments.

Not good enough: Labor slams Centrelink robo-debt changes

16 February 2017
SMH

Labor has dismissed the Coalition's effort to soften its controversial Centrelink "robo-debt" policy, with an opposition frontbencher demanding a government apology for those targeted by the program.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge announced on Tuesday evening that Centrelink, which has been sending private debt collectors to pursue debts raised under contentious data matching policy, will no longer demand payment for debts that are under review.

Joel Fitzgobbon: Centrelink crisis a hearltess act.

15 February 2017
Hunter Valley News

Centrelink's inability to adequately service its clients has reached crisis point. You can only squeeze so much from the lemon and funding and resourcing cuts should have stopped long ago.
[...]
The situation has been made worse thanks to the Turnbull Government's terrible debt recovery program. It's chewing up so many of Centrelink's limited resources and leaving people sick with worry over letters informing them that they owe large amounts of money.

‘Improvements’ for debt recovery system just fiddling around the edges: Greens

15 February 2017
Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia

The Government’s announcement of ‘improvements’ to the debt recovery system are fiddling around the edges and do not address the fundamental issues of the Centrelink automated debt recovery system, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.

GetUp says govt should stop harassing people over 'debts'

15 February 2017
IT Wire

The activist group GetUp claims Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government is shaking down ordinary people, often for debts they neither owe nor can effectively challenge.
The group's national director, Paul Oosting, said it would be launching a billboard criticising the government for failing to go after corporate tax cheats while it attacked ordinary people over "false" debt claims.
The billboard would be placed on the lawns of Parliament House on Friday, he said.

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