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No answer from Zed - local welfare recipients await action on Robo-Debt Program

31 January 2017
ACT Council of Social Services Inc

The ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) again today calls on Senator Zed Seselja to stand up for people in the ACT caught up in the Federal Government’s Centrelink Robo-Debt Recovery Program.
ACTCOSS Director, Susan Helyar, says that the government’s Debt Recovery Program is an unjust prosecution of our communities’ most vulnerable, who need support from local MPs.

Robo debt: Andrew Leigh 'inundated' with letters from affected Canberrans

30 January 2017
Canberra Times

Member for Fenner, Andrew Leigh said his office had been "inundated" with letters of angst, fear and frustration as more than 50 Canberrans contacted him about their Centrelink robo-debt woes so far this month.
The heartbreaking stories of financial stress and worry were a reminder of just how tough it was to get by on the poverty line and highlighted the "crude way this [process] was being carried out", with people who do and don't actually need to pay back money.

Bass Labor MP Ross Hart concerned by Centrelink online compliance system

29 January 2017
The Examiner

Bass Labor MP Ross Hart says his office is doing the work of Centrelink staff, assisting constituents with contesting and resolving letters sent to them from Centrelink demanding repayments of welfare.
Mr Hart said that his office has 21 Centrelink complaints on file that his staff are working to resolve, with “many more” complaints in the past two weeks.
Mr Hart added that he is concerned for Centrelink staff who are struggling to deal with the situation.

“False Centrelink debt demands are criminal”

29 January 2017
The Anti-Poverty Network SA, Women in Poverty

The Anti-Poverty Network (APN-SA), in conjunction with Women in Poverty (WIP), is holding a protest rally on Tuesday 31st January 2017 to demand the Turnbull government suspend the “Robo-Debt” Centrelink system that is issuing hundreds of thousands of debt notices, many of which have been proven false, to current and previous welfare recipients.

No significant increase in debt review requests, says Centrelink

27 January 2017
Guardian

Claim sits in stark contrast to allegations from staff and a Centrelink compliance officer says it is misleading.
Centrelink has maintained it is not seeing any significant increase in requests to review debts generated by its controversial automated recovery system, directly contradicting the claims of its own staff.
Despite the continued criticism of the system, the Department of Human Services said the number of requests for formal review had not increased dramatically.

How to fight a Centrelink robo-debt in 10 (not so easy) steps

27 January 2017
Green Left Weekly

I became aware that Centrelink were trying to pin a cooked-up “robo-debt” of $5558 on me through a text message from the aptly named Probe group debt collection agency.
There resources about how to dispute a Centrelink debt letter, including GetUp! which has a page that sends a bunch of letters to key places in one go.
But given the large and growing number affected by this $4.5 billion heist, I thought I would share my experience of disputing the debt in 10 not exactly easy steps.

Centrelink robo-debt ’victims’ exposed

26 January 2017
news.com.au

Two thirds of people publicly claiming to be victims of Centrelink’s robo-debt recovery system have been exposed as owing debts to the welfare system, with some deliberately cheating taxpayers out of thousands of dollars.
One woman who had claimed to be wrongly targeted was found to have not declared an income of $37,500 from a small business while billing the taxpayer for carer and parenting payments, The Australian reports.

Glenmore Park woman "sick with stress" over $35,000 Centrelink debt

26 January 2017
Penrith City Gazette

A Glenmore Park woman has described being sick with stress after Centrelink slapped her with a $35,000 debt bill, only to have it reduced to $173 a week later.
The woman, who is known to the Gazette but wishes to remain anonymous, was caught up in the controversial Centrelink crackdown on alleged overpayments earlier this month after being informed she owed the government agency $2,795.87, but was not told why.

Centrelink staff tell welfare recipients they agree debt system is 'unjust and callous'

25 January 2017
Guardian

Unionised Centrelink staff have written an open letter to welfare recipients saying they share their pain about the “unfair, unjust and callous” automated debt recovery system.
The letter was released by the Community and Public Sector Union on Wednesday, as the Department of Human Services issued its own statement lambasting the media for saying the system has a 20% error rate.

Let's talk about facts

25 January 2017
Australian Government Department of Human Services Media Hub

Public discussion continues to present false accounts of the Department of Humans Services’ online compliance review system.
The department has already rejected unsubstantiated claims from anonymous staff in statements last week, including refuting allegations about the treatment of exempt income. All assessments appropriately consider assessable and non-assessable income.

‘Just listen…!’: employee voice, Bundaberg Hospital & robo-debt recovery

25 January 2017
Griffith University News

Giving staff a say in what happens in their workplace in the hope that it will influence their employer’s operations and business affairs for the better is what employers want. Equally, employees wish to put forward views both for this reason as well as asserting their own interests. These are both what researchers refer to as ‘employee voice’.
The assumption cannot be made however, that formalised means of capturing voice (which are usually designed by managers and can look nothing like they were intended when implemented), resolves all the issues raised.

Robo debt: Centrelink staff write protest material in response to debt recovery program

25 January 2017
Canberra Times

Centrelink public servants have stepped up their internal resistance to the welfare agency's controversial "robo-debt" program, with union officials handing out protest material to clients at offices around Australia on Wednesday.
The move came as the welfare agency lashed out, again, at "unsubstantiated claims from anonymous staff" about the debt recovery program.

Losing oxygen to leakers and the media, Centrelink’s comms fall back to ‘the facts’

25 January 2017
The Mandarin

The Department of Human Services has rejected speculation that Centrelink’s automated systems generate incorrect assessments of past income and welfare entitlements in 90% of cases, as further serious claims emerge from the agency’s staff.
The new statement is naively headlined “Let’s talk about facts” — ignoring the important context that it’s hard for anyone to know what to believe out of the mix of anonymous claims from staff, the union’s ongoing campaign regarding working conditions and staffing levels at DHS, the online #notmydebt campaign, flat-out denials and semantic arguments from the department, and of course opinions in the media.

Australia, we need to talk about data ethics

25 January 2017
The Ethics Centre

Centrelink’s recent debt recovery woes perfectly illustrate the human side of data modelling. The Department for Human Services issued 169,000 debt notices after automating its processes for matching welfare recipients’ reported income with their tax. Around one in five people are estimated not to owe any money. Over Christmas, stories abounded of people receiving erroneous debt notices up to thousands of dollars that caused real anguish.
Coincidentally, as this all unfolded over the break, one of the books on my reading pile was Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. She is a mathematician turned quantitative analyst turned data scientist who writes about the bad data models increasingly being used to make decisions that affect our lives.

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