Centrelink debt recovery system

Centrelink, the federal government's main social welfare agency, is planning to hire 1000 private labour-hire staff to carry out "debt recovery" operations and assist in enforcing compliance by welfare recipients.

This latest large-scale outsourcing exercise comes just a month after the Coalition government announced that controversial multinational corporation Serco would use 250 employees to staff a Centrelink call centre, supposedly to help reduce long waiting times.

More than one-third of Centrelink debt recovery cases have been overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

It has set aside 960 Centrelink debt decisions out of 2699 appeals lodged from March last year and a further 132 were “varied”.

The data shows a steady rise in decisions from January when the government’s controversial “robo debt” measures were introduced.

A Centrelink decision can be “set aside” because the debt was incorrectly calculated or if it would cause the Centrelink recipient serious financial hardship.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) said on March 7 it feared the system’s treatment of welfare recipients was scaring individuals away from exercising their right to claim income support.

Speaking as the Senate inquiry into the Centrelink debt recovery system began, ACT ACOSS Director Susan Helyar described the system as an abuse of government power that was undermining confidence in public administration.

“Some of our members have wondered whether individuals are being encouraged to stay out of the welfare system,” she said.

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