Cen­tre­link's 'deeply flawed' robo-debt to face new in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines / News -

A fresh in­ves­ti­ga­tion is be­ing launched into Cen­tre­link’s “deeply flawed” robo-debt re­cov­ery pro­gram, fol­low­ing claims of se­ri­ous fail­ures from a whistle­blower.

The wel­fare agency has been un­der fire over its au­to­mated debt re­cov­ery scheme for more than 18 months, af­ter scores of peo­ple were in­cor­rectly tar­geted in a data-match­ing blitz on sup­posed over-pay­ments.

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Debt re­cov­ery no­tices were sent to 20,000 wel­fare re­cip­i­ents who were later found to owe less or even noth­ing.

In­de­pen­dent fed­eral MP An­drew Wilkie has se­cured agree­ment from the com­mon­wealth om­buds­man to launch an­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the robo-debt pro­gram.

Wilkie is con­cerned peo­ple who pro­vide pay slips rather than bank state­ments may be in­cur­ring higher debts, be­liev­ing the sys­tem does not fac­tor in gross ver­sus net in­come.

He is also wor­ried peo­ple are re­ceiv­ing

dou­ble or triple debts be-

cause one em­ployer has been rec-

orded un­der sev­eral dif­fer­ent names.

Wilkie re­stated his calls for the “deeply flawed” pro­gram to be shut down and re­placed.

“The fact is that the robo-debt sys­tem should have been shut down a long time ago,” he said on Wed­nes­day.

“But in­stead the govern­ment has con­tin­ued to let it loose on ev­ery­day Aus­tralians, sad­dling them with non­sen­si­cal and of­ten in­cor­rect debts, some­times in the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.”The om­buds­man re­sponded to Wilkie on Tues­day, agree­ing to in­ves­ti­gate his com­plaint and seek­ing fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing copies of debt no­tices the MP of­fered up to back his claims.

The De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices has been con­tacted for com­ment.

Wilkie said no­body dis­agreed with ask­ing Cen­tre­link clients who had been gen­uinely over­paid to hand the money back.

“You do need a sys­tem but it’s got to work. This sys­tem doesn’t work and it can’t be made to work,” he said.

Pho­to­graph: Ju­lian Smith/AAP

Fed­eral MP An­drew Wilkie says the Cen­tre­link ‘robo-debt’ pro­gram has sad­dled ev­ery­day Aus­tralians with ‘of­ten in­cor­rect debts’.

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