If you’ve ever spent any time on Centrelink, you know it is absolute hell. By all means, let’s take time to appreciate the fact that we live in a country that has welfare, but let’s also acknowledge that they go out of their way to make it the shittiest, most humiliating process feasible – possibly in the attempt of forcing people to suddenly become affluent out of sheer embarrassment and frustration. It’s not great.

The time they make you spend on hold when you try get them to correct one of their many, many fuckups and restore that meagre payment that you need to, y’know, live should in itself be a war crime, but they’re not willing to stop there.

Because, obviously, fixing their shitty ass call centre strategy clearly would have been too helpful, the shadowy cabal of complete dinguses who control Centrelink decided to fix their attentions on automating the detection of people making fraudulent claims. Given the terrible job track record their human staff have of doing this, it seems insane to me that they’d reckon some software they made could do a better job.

Well, it turns out it couldn’t.

Centrelink’s joint data-matching program with the ATO has so far done a wonderful job, if the area it was designed to perform in was falsely accusing people of accruing massive debts some time in the last decade. Just in case that’s not clear: it was not designed to do that (as far as we’re aware), and is, in fact, horrible.

One Reddit user posted in r/Australia two weeks ago that he’d been falsely accused of having defrauded Centrelink to the tune of $2200 in 2011, and that he was only able to contest it thanks to having an employer that emailed pay slips, otherwise he would have had no way to prove that he didn’t.

Almost immediately, he started getting flooded with replies from people experiencing the same bullshit, and he’s still getting them today.

The machine, it turns out, is not a genius. From one user: 

“Happened to me too. I remained on Newstart for a 9 days while I started my new job, worked a total of 31 hours & reported correctly. In those 10 days, my debt notice thinks I earnt $2400. In 9 days. On a 40k salary job. Because it has averaged out my entire financial year’s salary and applied it to a training period, so now I owe $700. What a fucked situation that it’s happening to so many of us.”

In true Centrelink fashion, the method of appeal is also down:

“Happening to me too, I have until the 26th to respond online with an explanation or any corrections however, in true fucked up style, the service is unavailable at all times. In the statement it says if I don’t respond then that will be taken as there being no suitable excuse and the data will be locked in and I will then owe money.”

They’re also using their famously shitty communication as an excuse to just straight up punish people:

“This happened to me too! They told me I didn’t report my earnings correctly when I was working and studying. However they told me that I did report my earnings every fortnight.

“They sent me the letter regarding the debt to an address I lived at 6 years ago and when I didn’t reply to the letter, obviously because I don’t live there, they contacted my HR where I work and now the deductions come out automatically. No warning!! It’s coming out every fortnight, 10% of my wage.

“I’ve phoned them, explained the situation and they said they have to keep taking the money out and will only stop once the debt is recovered or I can prove they are wrong. I’ve contacted the payroll where I was working at the time who told me “there’s not enough resources to send 2 years worth of payslips from 5 years ago through the mail and they’ll just send me a summary”. I just know this won’t be good enough for centrelink. Meanwhile 10% of my pay just keeps going to them! It’s fucking horrible and really unfair!”

It would be insane of me to imply that they intentionally kicked off this terrible algorithm just before Christmas to intentionally ruin people’s holidays but, well, they are a pack of heartless bastards.

The Guardian‘ reported on one woman who was hit with a (false) $24,000 debt by Centrelink just two weeks before Christmas, after the system had assumed that she was receiving income from two different sources. Needless to say, she was unhappy:

“It’s just really upsetting and confronting because, I was thinking, the rate that I paid back Centrelink debt in the past would be about $50 a pay cycle. 

“More than that at a time I just simply couldn’t afford it. So I thought, ‘Is it going to be for the next 10 years that I’m going to be paying this back? How am I ever going to be able to get ahead?’.”

Linda Burney, Labor‘s human services spokesperson, has written to the government asking them to turn the bloody thing off until they get it to stop falsely accusing people, but it seems unlikely, as they are probably getting a lot of unearned revenue from people without the time or inclination to look into it further.

Assholes.

Source: The Guardian / Reddit.