As the federal government continues to tout its automated Centrelink debt recovery system as 'working well', independent politician Andrew Wilkie has called on the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate the 'flawed' process.
People are reporting having to make hundreds of calls to Centrelink before the phone line even connects, and spending hours on hold once their call actually goes through, as the nation's welfare debt recovery saga continues.
Asylum-seekers on temporary visas have been caught up in the federal government’s $4 billion welfare debt recovery controversy, with some being told they owe thousands in allegedly overpaid money and risk their future residency if they don’t give it back.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has been asked to investigate faults with Centrelink’s new automated data matching system that has resulted in welfare recipients being wrongly hounded to pay debts.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has asked the Commonwealth Ombudsman to investigate faults with Centrelink's new automated data matching system after receiving more than 100 complaints to his electoral office about problems with the debt recovery process.
"The government has terrified countless people, ruined the Christmases of many and even driven some people to contemplate taking their own lives," Mr Wilkie said in a statement. [...] "You don't have to be a genius to tell that taking someone's yearly income and dividing by 26 is not always going to produce accurate results if only because people's circumstances change," he said.
CHRIS SMITH: I want to return right now to the growing issue of welfare rorting in Australia. Some of the figures on this subject are rather staggering, but the Federal Government is now vowing to extend its program to recover $4 billion in welfare debts from almost 2 million Australians who may have incorrectly received benefit payments. Now, remember this is taxpayers' money.
AUDIO with full transcript.
The Centrelink debacle is getting worse, with more Australians each day revealing they have been slugged with demands to pay back tens of thousands of dollars they don’t owe.
Furious Aussies, many of whom were on the dole for only a brief period years ago, are demanding action from the Government, which is denying a problem exists.
The Department of Human Services, which has responsibility for the welfare agency, has recently sought private contractors to provide "Advanced Customer Aggression Training Services".
Autism Australia head says her son almost paid $3,000 to a debt recovery firm when he did not owe Centrelink anything
Centrelink debt notices are pushing some welfare recipients to the brink of suicide, an independent MP has warned.
The federal government has vowed to extend its program to recover $4 billion in welfare debts from almost two million Australians despite admitting to “small instances” where people are being asked to refund money they do not owe.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter declared the program to be working so well it would be ramped up over the next four years, as he ridiculed Labor demands to suspend it in order to stop the false claims for refunds.
Independent Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie has written to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, asking for an investigation into the Centrelink automated debt recovery system that has seen some letters demanding money repayment sent in error to welfare recipients.
Legal aid services have been inundated with calls from people being chased by Centrelink with debt recovery notices.
SBS World News Radio: The federal government is defending Centrelink's automated debt recovery system amid reports of wrongly issued repayment notices.
A group of volunteers helped create the 'Not My Debt' website and social media pages.
She says some of the most socio-economically vulnerable people are being incorrectly sent letters from Centrelink demanding repayment.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter has praised the big data welfare initiative he labelled the "single most important thing" he will do this parliamentary term, as Labor claims Australians are being hounded for false debts.
The Federal Government has begun the political year defending its efforts to recover Centrelink overpayments.
The social services minister has defended Centrelink’s “polite” debt letters generated by a new automated system amid criticism some welfare recipients have been hounded over false debts.
Christian Porter confirmed so far this financial year 169,000 review letters have been sent out, indicating there might be discrepancies after data from different agencies is matched up.
All welfare recipients - including people who got student support payments - are subject to the new compliance measures.
For some people, the automated system assumed that the welfare they receive in a fortnight is the same across the year - without taking into account that some people work casually or only during certain periods.
"These are not debt letters. These are letters that use automated cross-referencing information from the ATO to information received at Centrelink, which shows there might be a discrepancy," he said.
"The complaint rate is running at 0.16 per cent. That's only 276 complaints from those 169,000 letters. That process has raised $300 million worth of money back to the taxpayer which was overpaid. From what we've seen in a high volume system it's actually working incredibly well."
Are you having trouble with a Centrelink debt?
The government's today defending its efforts to recoup the overpayment of Centrelink benefits to welfare recipients - saying the program's working well despite isolated complaints.
But the opposition says that doesn't tally with a wave of complaints flooding into politicians' offices across the country from angry and frustrated Centrelink clients who feel they've been duped.
Welfare recipients are tweeting criticism of the system under the hashtag #notmydebt.
Labor's spokeswoman on human services Linda Burney has called for the system to be suspended.
"Get it right before threatening people - not that hard," Ms Burney tweeted.
She said no MPs who checked the emails to their electorate office could possibly say the system was working.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter has defended Centrelink’s unpopular debt-recovery system, arguing it was “about as reasonable a process as you could possibly derive”.
It is ‘as reasonable a process as you could possibly derive’, says Christian Porter of controversial automated system
The big data system was brought in last year as a part of the federal government’s campaign to rein in unjustified welfare costs. Unfortunately, the debt claims are incorrectly targeting many legitimate welfare recipients, according to the website NotMyDebt, which arose out of social media concerns from those who have been falsely accused by Centrelink.