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Suspend Centrelink's Automated Debt recovery until it's fixed

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Australia, we've had multiple people consider suicide because of this debt recovery scheme. Centrelinks own PR team have been sending people the Life Hotline (Suicide prevention) via their twitter account

We've had families, prior to Christmas, learn they cannot afford Christmas presents with this looming over their heads.

We've had students, who did the right thing - within the realm of their knowledge of a system so convoluted, Centrelinks own people don't know how it works - be chastised and declared guilty prior to being proven guilty.

At one point in your life, you were or are trying to meet the basic requirements of living, be it studying, taking care of a loved one, trying desperately to find work, getting through illness or trying to make ends meet for yourself or your family with assistance from your Government.

You might be someone who worked for a small business that no longer exists, the pay slips don't exist and you're being told you needed to keep them for 7 years.

That's true. Your banking history might help you. However; what's also true is that you should have reported your income during the time you were on benefits and Centrelink should have referenced these details when making their automated decision finding you guilty of owing a debt

But we all know, in the vast majority of cases, that didn't happen.

You could have worked 9 months out of the year in part time jobs, contractor roles, freelancing (photographers, anyone?). In either event, if you reported the income correctly, the information is there for Centrelink to do the right thing.

The fact is, Centrelink didn't do the right thing.


Once you realise that, the question really becomes;

  • How much did this system cost to implement?
  • How much has it actually been able to find is a 100% certain debt that needs to be recovered?
  • How much extra time is it taking up on the phones, away from real services?
  • How much extra time is it taking to resolve an incorrect debt amount?
  • How often does the debt amount match between a Manual review and the automated system?
  • What's the actual cost of fixing these mistakes on a case by case basis?


That's the kind of transparency that's needed. Until that information is publicly available, the system should be suspended as a matter of public health and safety.

For further reading;

The debt was a double up from the ATO having 2 different names for an employer. Simple. 

Useful information on what to do if you do have debt

An exceptional explnation of what's going on with this automated System and a list of a few ways that is broken.

MP Andrew Wilkie: "People are terrified about how they will put food on the table or provide Christmas for their kids. My office has spoken to people who are distraught because they have received a threatening letter warning of enormous debt”

Hank, listen. The onus is not on us to prove that we are not welfare frauds. Centrelink cannot claim that we owe a debt without having a valid basis for that claim. The mere fact that we earned a certain amount in a year is not enough

You're not the only one as this reddit thread shows. People who have paid to avoid the hassle of finding payslips, people have set up pay arrangements under duress of increased debt / fees.

Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney said it should be suspended, citing "inherent problems right across the system".

The system is also flagging cases where employer names and other information have inconsistent spelling across records, assuming recipients have more than one job and haven't declared income.

Valerie Farfalla: Some of them have been paying debts that they may not even owe

73,000 families sent a debt notice, incorrectly due to a system error.

MP Andrew Wilkie: "I've had people who have approached me who have been frightened, absolutely scared, people who are paying this money because they are so frightened by this very official letter," Mr Wilkie said on Wednesday.

"I've had four people now approach me in my office who I would describe as presenting as suicidal and in all those cases we've taken what action we thought was appropriate."

Paul Shelter: “I said when I came in that this would be happening, I said this was already happening, I said it was unacceptable and I made that case the entire time I was at the DTO [digital transformation office], and the DTA [digital transformation agency],” he said.

“I was very explicit about it internally, not nearly as much so externally. It was a fight that I fought from day one, not an easy fight to win, because you’ve got an entire bureaucracy of IT bureaucrats who are backed by large vendors, who have large numbers of staff, and because ministers, I’m going out on a limb here, very quickly become captive to the departments that they deal with.”

The list could go on and on and on but Enough, is Enough.

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