Australia

Centrelink halts 'extraordinary mess' robo-debt scheme targeting welfare recipients

The public sector union has called for more Centrelink staff to deal with changes to the welfare debt recovery program, now that "robo-debt" won't be relied on.

The winding back of the controversial "robo-debt" scheme will require a staffing boost for Centrelink, the public sector union says.

The Department of Human Services has reportedly told staff to conduct further investigations to determine whether a debt exists, rather than relying on the robo-debt system which uses tax office and Centrelink data.

"Restoring human oversight to debt decisions is incredibly important but the decision will mean nothing if there aren't enough permanent, properly trained staff to do this complex work," Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said on Tuesday.

It was recently revealed in a Senate committee hearing the estates of up to 200 dead people were pursued over outstanding debts.
It was recently revealed in a Senate committee hearing the estates of up to 200 dead people were pursued over outstanding debts.
AAP

There is a huge backlog of robo-debts, she added.

"Robo-debt has been an extraordinary mess, it will take a long time to unpick it, and there's no way it can get done without proper resourcing."

It was recently revealed in a Senate committee hearing the estates of up to 200 dead people were pursued, while victims of the debt notices said they felt bullied by the agency.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert says the income averaging method won't be scrapped entirely.

"We will continue to use income averaging as part of a range of options to ask a welfare recipient to engage with DHS if there is a discrepancy," he said in a statement.

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert.
Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert.
AAP

"The government has a responsibility to collect any overpayments.

"Compliance activity will continue for past and future welfare payment recipients where there is a reason to believe they have been overpaid."

The scheme matches tax office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

People were contacted if Centrelink thought they might owe more than $1,000.

About one-fifth of initial debt notice letters sent by Centrelink included information that was later proved to be wrong.

Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said the government had "hit the emergency brakes" on the failed system.

"If the system is dodgy enough it needs to be junked, then what happens to all those people who have already been victims of robo-debt?" he said.

"What happens to the money obtained improperly by the Commonwealth?"

With AAP...

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