Welfare payments make up around 35 per cent of the Federal Government’s total expenditure and there is increasing pressure to find savings, which has led to Centrelink appointing a special unit to crack down on over payments estimated at around $4 billion.
Dubbed the Welfare Debt Recovery Squad, the team has been tasked with the job of getting back the billions of dollars in Centrelink over payments and the Government says it has a new high-tech system to catch out those people who have been ‘stealing’ from the taxpayer.
“We will find you, we will track you down, you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison,” says Alan Tudge, the human services minister.
He told A Current Affair that the overall objective of this process is the “ensure that people get the right payments that they are entitled to, but no more and no less”.
He says the over payments are a combination of those who are simply defrauding the system and those who might not have lodged their income records correctly (knowingly or not) when applying for Centrelink payments.
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Under the new system, if you are receiving welfare from the Government your details will be matched with information from the tax office. It replaces the manual process of checking people’s income records on Centrelink and is said to be of great success.
Around $4.5 million dollars of Centrelink debt is being found every day. There have been at least $650 million in debt notices issued to Centrelink customers since around August and around 20,000 compliance interventions issued each week, an incredible jump on the 20,000 per year that was previously being attained.
It’s hoped that by cracking down on those who are doing the wrong thing the Government will save around $1.7 billion dollars in the next five years.
If you are receiving payments via Centrelink the onus is on you to update any changes to your income or personal situation, however the new system will also identify any data inconsistencies in the myGov system and automatically generate a letter asking you to check and update your details online.
There has been a great deal of support for the crackdown, with 2GB commentator Chris Smith saying it is “long overdue”.
“I think the taxpayer deserves to have it [over paid money] back in the kitty, and I think it’s about time we used the budget to spend our money on services and programs that make a difference,” he told A Current Affair.
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