Report

Centrelink’s automated debt raising and recovery system

Description

Summary

In July 2016 the Department of Human Services (DHS) - Centrelink launched a new online compliance intervention (OCI) system for raising and recovering debts. The OCI matches the earnings recorded on a customer’s Centrelink record with historical employer-reported income data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Parts of the debt raising process previously done manually by compliance officers within DHS are now done using this automated process. Customers are asked to confirm or update their income using the online system. If the customer does not engage with DHS either online or in person, or if there are gaps in the information provided by the customer, the system will fill the gaps with a fortnightly income figure derived from the ATO income data for the relevant employment period (‘averaged’ data).

Since the initial rollout of the OCI, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office has received many complaints from people who have incurred debts under the OCI. This report examines our concerns with the implementation of the OCI, using complaints we investigated as case study examples.

We acknowledge the changes DHS has made to the OCI since its initial rollout. The changes have been positive and have improved the usability and accessibility of the system. However, we consider there are several areas where further improvements could be made, particularly before use of the OCI is expanded. We have made several recommendations to address these areas.

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