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Implementation and performance of the Cashless Debit Card trial — follow-on

Cashless debit card Income management Welfare recipients Australia

The objective of the audit was to examine the effectiveness of the Department of Social Services' administration of the Cashless Debit Card program, including implementation of the recommendations made in Auditor-General Report No.1 2018–19, The implementation and performance of the Cashless Debit Card trial.

The Australian Government introduced the Cashless Debit Card (CDC) trial, later known as the CDC program, in 2016.

Under the CDC program, a portion of a participant’s income support payment is allocated to a restricted bank account, accessed by a debit card (the CDC). The CDC does not allow cash withdrawals; or purchase of alcohol, gambling or cash-like products. The objective of the CDC program is to assist people receiving income support to better manage their finances and encourage socially responsible behaviour.

The earlier audit found that while DSS largely established appropriate arrangements to implement the CDC trial, its approach to monitoring and evaluation was inadequate. It was therefore difficult to conclude if the CDC trial was effective in achieving its objective of reducing social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach compared to other components of income management such as the BasicsCard.

Key findings:

  • DSS’ administrative oversight of the CDC program is largely effective, however, DSS has not demonstrated that the CDC program is meeting its intended objectives. DSS implemented the recommendations from Auditor-General Report No.1 2018–19 relating to risk management, procurement and contract management, partly implemented the recommendations relating to performance monitoring, and did not effectively implement the recommendations relating to cost–benefit analysis, post-implementation review and evaluation.
  • DSS and Services Australia have effective risk management processes in place for the CDC program, although DSS has not yet developed a risk-based compliance framework. DSS’ limited tender procurement processes were undertaken in accordance with Commonwealth Procurement Rules, however DSS’ due diligence over its procurement of the Traditional Credit Union could have been more thorough. Contract management arrangements with the card providers are effective. A service level agreement between DSS and Services Australia was finalised in April 2022.
  • The CDC program extension and expansion was not informed by an effective second impact evaluation, cost–benefit analysis or post-implementation review. Although DSS evaluated the CDC trial, a second impact evaluation was delivered late in the implementation of the CDC program, had similar methodological limitations to the first impact evaluation and was not independently reviewed. A cost–benefit analysis and post-implementation review on the CDC program were undertaken but not used. The recommendations from Auditor-General Report No.1 2018–19 relating to evaluation, cost–benefit analysis and post-implementation review were not effectively implemented.


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Auditor-General Report No.29 2021–22