The Department of Human Services (DHS) and Centrelink remain in the public spotlight over their data-matching program despite clarifying the methodology of the program and the process for alerting clients of suspected debts.
In today’s episode of the Centrelink #notmydebt tail of fail we will dig into how the data matching process Centrelink uses is broken by design.
The specific part we’re going to look at is the way the business name matching process works.
An increase in debt notices from Centrelink to welfare recipients has been causing waves. The increase has been brought about by data-matching technology, which sees Centrelink data checked against details held by the Australian Taxation Office.
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.
If you are affected by Centrelink’s automated debt recovery program and do not know how to respond, or believe a debt has been wrongly raised, there are number of things you can do.
Mr Porter also addressed the Centrelink automated debt recovery debacle; defending the program by saying it has been working as it was intended and slammed Labor senator Linda Burney for allegedly placing “fake victims” before the media.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the Sunday Mail contacted the Human Services Department — responsible for Centrelink — a spokeswoman said if people approached the media a dedicated specialised team member would investigate the issue.
Labor’s attempts to mount a repeat of its discredited Mediscare campaign against Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system have been exposed, with at least two-thirds of those publicly claiming to be victims of Centrelink found to owe significant debts to the taxpayer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The CPSU has today launched an open letter to Centrelink customers on behalf of Centrelink staff as controversy continues to rage around the Centrelink automated debt crisis.
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.
Centrelink wrongly billed an elderly Brisbane couple $45,000 who scrambled to repay the debt or risk losing their pension, only to find out they owed much less.
A young Victorian man forced to take out a bank loan to pay back a Centrelink debt claims the welfare agency never actually told him about his debt and the first he heard was from a debt collector.
Senior bosses at Centrelink are not taking responsibility for the welfare agency's "robo-debt" debacle and leaving their department's junior leaders to pick up the pieces, according to front line workers.
Centrelink staff have told their union, the CPSU, that waiting time for reviews of "debts" raised under the controversial data-matching compliance program have now blown out to 50 days when the the agency is demanding that the money is repaid in less than 28 days.