Centrelink has brought forward its annual Christmas shutdown of posting debt and review notices, as the Department of Human Services manages ongoing fallout from the “robo-debt” saga, the Canberra Times reports.
Departmental staff usually stop sending new review and debt letters to welfare recipients in the days before Christmas, but amid ongoing criticism of the government’s efforts to match tax and employment data to Centrelink records, new correspondence was stopped in late November.
One insider said departmental staff continued to investigate existing cases but had been told not to issue new debt notices until early 2018.
As part of efforts to recovery over payments of Centrelink benefits, the department matches tax records and pay reports to the welfare agency before income is averaged over 26 fortnightly reporting periods.
The automated data matching process has led to hundreds of reports of welfare recipients receiving demands for large amounts in repayments, many of which have been reduced or cancelled when challenged.
Department of Human Services spokesman Hank Jongen said the Christmas shutdown was an annual event.
“Consistent with usual practice, the department is reducing review and debt letters in the lead-up to Christmas,” he said.
“The department paused the mailout of initial online compliance review letters in early November. These will resume around mid-January next year.”
Mr Jongen said some compliance review and debt correspondence may still continue between now and the end of 2017.
“We remind anyone in financial hardship or other difficult circumstances that we can be flexible and look at options like review extensions,” he said.
Centrelink robo-debt notice Christmas shutdown brought forward (Canberra Times)