Centerlink, a department of Human Services in Australia, recently started an automated debt recovery scheme, starting with a mass mail out to people on the unemployment benefit who they believe have been overpaid. The current center-right Liberal Government claims that many people collecting unemployment have been doing so fraudulently or been overpaid. After targeting the unemployed the government through Centerlink is then set to recover overpayments of benefits from old age pensioners, single parents and people living with disability. Despite public outcry suggesting that this scheme isn’t working, that it is inaccurate and causing undue stress for some of the most vulnerable people in Australia the government continues to roll it out. This ABC report from the 11th of January 2017 outlines some of the current government rhetoric, meanwhile people are suffering. Getup an activist group in Australia began a campaign to inform people about what the government is doing in an attempt to stop what they term government bullying. They pointed out that many of the over 200,000 automatically generated letters were incorrect, or that they were being sent to people who had not incorrectly or fraudulently claimed benefits. In addition the onus was on those who received letters to prove that they had not been overpaid.

The government would not back down despite concerning information leaked by a whistleblower about serious problems with the debt recovery scheme. This included the claim that it had been designed to create false ‘debt’ and that Centerlink staff were and still are being directed to ignore system errors and not help customers who are appealing claims of overpayment. A major issue facing the people who have received letters is that the onus is on them to prove their innocence. In addition the process for proving their innocence is very complex and they are being asked to provide evidence that they may no longer have such as old pay slips. Despite the information provided by the whistleblower and issues related to Centerlink’s complex appeal processes the government will not back down! Getup is now working to provide the software Fraudstop, which assists those who have received overpayment letters to navigate the appeal process.

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