Centrelink Debt Recovery Scheme to Resume

Centrelink Debt Recovery Scheme to Resume
A Medicare and Centrelink office sign at Bondi Junction in Sydney, Australia, on March 21, 2016. (Matt King/Getty Images)

Australians on welfare will soon be subject to Centrelink’s debt recovery program again, with the government ending the pause put in place because of the pandemic.

The program aims to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

From November 2, Services Australia will contact welfare recipients if they think people been paid too much.

Victoria will be excluded, as will other states if they’re in a state of disaster.

But the agency won’t start to try and get Australians to pay back the money until February 2021.

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the delay would help people plan for the future.

“This could include adjusting the information they are reporting to Services Australia,” he said in a statement on Oct 28.

“As debt activity starts again, Services Australia will work with people to make the process as clear and simple as possible. The agency will explain how debts arose, where to go for more information, how to self-service and offer other support.”

Robert said people would be able to repay debts voluntarily prior to February if they had been given too much.

“It can be managed within their personal circumstances.”

The debt recovery program is no longer automated after blunders with the previous so-called ‘robo-debt’ system, which is facing a class action challenge.

The scheme was also ruled unlawful last year, with the Federal Court saying Centrelink could not have been satisfied debts raised were correct.

The scheme matched Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

The Morrison government is currently paying all debts raised through the system back to Australians, estimated at about $721 million.

Rebecca Gredley in Canberra