Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Questions without Notice
Pensions and Benefits
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Government Services. Minister, the COVID-19 freeze on Centrelink debts has been lifted, and my office is taking calls daily from constituents confused and frustrated because they can't get a straight answer from Centrelink as to why they have a debt and how the debt is calculated. Moreover, the appeal process remains confusing and non-transparent, with people not receiving updates, being told different information every time they call and sometimes not even been notified of the outcome until money disappears from their bank account. Frankly, this reeks of robodebt. Why, even the local library provides more information about debts than does Centrelink. Minister, when is the government going to fix this?
Let me thank the member for Clark for his question. The government is committed to a very strong social safety net, as are all members in this House. Services Australia will pay over $125 billion this year in support payments, and, as at late May, 5.36 million Australians were in receipt of some payments.
As the House is aware, we run a very targeted social welfare system. With that comes complexity. This includes complex interactions between members' income and their assets, as well as how much they earn. It's for these reasons that a key obligation of our welfare system is for individuals to update the department on their circumstances, if they change, to ensure that entitlements are accurately calculated. The department, of course, has an obligation to undertake substantial compliance activity to ensure the right people get the right amount of money at the right time.
As the member has noted, debt raising was paused during the height of COVID and has recommenced from 1 February this year, because Services Australia has a lawful obligation to do so. From 1 February, the department has also included SMS notifications on changes to repayments and repayment plans, as well as nudges, in line with myGov messaging. Services Australia has used the debt pause to re-evaluate exactly how its approach to service offering is made with respect to overpayments and to make it as contemporary as possible. For example, the IVR, the interactive voice response, when you dial into Centrelink, now provides—
As I've said many times, when you take the entire time to ask that question—rather than asking it—as you did, there's a lot of other material the minister can refer to. So it's a regular point of order that's taken, but if you take the full 45 seconds all of that preamble is relevant to the minister's answer. So I make that clear, yet again.
Customers can actually stay in the IVR, in that voice channel, to get informed, specific information for them and have the information and the issue resolved. Likewise, the 'money you owe' service provides specific information now as to how a debt is raised and what to do with it. I've just taken the liberty to sign into myGov, and I will show the member. Simply go into myGov, move down to favourites, and there is money you owe. Go to the menu, move across to payments and claims, across to managed payments and money you owe. So the information is right there within two clicks for individuals to see. Over two million Australians are using that every single day; it is the largest authenticated platform in Australia with over 20 million users. So a user can see the debt that has arisen, how it's arisen and how they can move forward to deal with that. Furthermore, payment letters have been simplified to make the reason for overpayments and the next steps clearer.
The government's also implementing changes to make it easier for customers to prevent overpayments in the first place, notably through the use of single touch payroll. So I encourage the member to refer their citizens to those areas where substantial improvements have— (Time expired)