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Centrelink’s debt recovery system is a war on the poor, says AASW



Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system is a war on the poor and the vulnerable, AASW National President Christine Craik said yesterday.

Speaking at a Senate Inquiry into Centrelink’s automated debt recovery scheme, Ms Craik described the scheme as harsh, unfair and a denial of natural justice.

In its submission to the inquiry, the AASW pointed out that people usually apply for Centrelink benefits following a crisis or a major change in their lives.  They are often vulnerable and distressed.  

“Social workers have experience of supporting people through these hardships and we know that the confusion and unpredictability of daily life for people in these situations, alongside the difficulties in being able to contact Centrelink, often makes it difficult to fully understand or meet the bureaucratic benchmarks that are required,” Ms Craik said. 

The AASW acknowledged that changes have been made to the scheme, but points out that the fundamental principles remain the same.

“It is bad enough that people receive a letter which puts the onus on them to prove that they have not incurred a debt. But when vulnerable people, like the people we work with, are presumed guilty and asked to produce documents going back six years, their anxiety and distress levels often increase and for good reason.

“For example, it is difficult to keep track of documents when you are experiencing homelessness, and difficult to take everything you need if you are having to flee a violent perpetrator.  In cases like this, re-establishing contact, and asking for favours from anyone in their past, can seriously threaten their safety.”

For Ms Craik, it gets back to trust that our government organisations are going to treat people fairly without a beginning presumption of guilt.

“For many people on Centrelink who have paid taxes all their lives and trusted that the system will take care of them should they need it, they find that this trust is betrayed and do not feel as if they are being treated fairly.”

The AASW calls on the government to work with the community sector and people who have been in this situation to design a debt recovery process that is fair, accurate and responsive to the difficult life circumstances in which many Australians find themselves.