The Government is set to crack down on welfare debt dodgers, with Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation Michael Keenan announcing strict new rules for people who owe the taxpayer money.
Under new rules, anyone who has rorted the system by fraud or by simply not paying back overpaid money could be stopped from travelling overseas. It comes as the Government is trying to recover hundreds of millions of dollars owed to taxpayers.
The Department of Human Services has already started issuing Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs), which have prevented former welfare recipients from departing Australia. Since June, more than 20 DPOs have been issued to people with outstanding debt they’ve refused to pay back.
At present, more than 150,000 people who are no longer in the welfare system owe money to the tune of more than $800 million.
“These people are making no effort to repay their debts and the Government believes that if they can afford to go on an overseas holiday, they can afford to start repaying what they owe,” Keenan said in a statement. “We make no apologies for the tough action we are taking, as many of those who are in our sights have known about these debts for years – in some cases for up to a decade.”
Keenan explained that some debts are the result of deliberate acts of fraud, with some people purposely evading calls, letters and emails from the Department of Human Services as a way of avoiding their debts.
“The message we are sending to them is that you cannot ignore us forever,” Keenan warned. “If you received a payment you were not entitled to, you have an obligation to repay the money you owe and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure it is recovered on behalf of Australian taxpayers.”
For those who owe money that have already planned a holiday, setting up a repayment plan with the Department of Human Services will ensure they’re not stopped at the border. The amount that is to be repaid each week or fortnight will depend on personal circumstances.
Keenan also assured that people currently receiving welfare benefits or those who are already making repayments are not being targeted under the new rules. Still, he explained DPOs have been used for more than a decade to ensure parents meet child support obligations, with more than 1,200 being issued in 2017 and 400 people being stopped at airports who defied the bans.
“Australians believe in the idea of a fair go for those who rely on our welfare system,” Keenan continued. “But they also believe in a fair go for those who fund the system – the Australian taxpayer.
“That is why we are working hard to recover this money so that we can keep the welfare system viable and affordable. That enables us to guarantee other essential services such as schools, transport and hospitals.”
Anyone worried that their debt may affect their overseas travel plans are encouraged to enter into a payment arrangement using the Money You Owe online service within myGov.
“Taking this step will safeguard them from any interruption to their travel,” Keenan said.
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