The Centrelink overpayments controversy highlights shortcomings in social security reforms in Australia and Britain
Unexpected bills can be a challenge for any household. But for people who rely on social security payments, unexpected news of a significant debt – sometimes dating back years – can be bewildering, to say the least. This is exactly what tens of thousands of Australians have experienced in recent months.
Since just before Christmas, Centrelink’s new automated data-matching system has resulted in a significant increase in the number of current and former welfare recipients assessed as having been overpaid and, thus, in debt to the government. The data-matching system seems to have identified people with earned income higher than the amount reported when their benefits were calculated.
Many of these people were alarmed when Centrelink contacted them about the assumed debt. Their stories have been recounted over the past two months in the mainstream media and in social media. The controversy prompted the shadow human services minister, Linda Burney, to request an auditor-general’s investigation. After receiving more than one hundred complaints about problems with the debt-recovery process, independent MP Andrew Wilkie asked the Commonwealth ombudsman to step in, and he has since launched an investigation. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee will also examine the new process…(continues)
SOURCE: Peter Whiteford and Jane Millar, “Timing it wrong: benefits, income tests, overpayments and debts”, Inside Story, 27 Feb 2017
BroCAP is produced by the two librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia.