If you’ve spent any time on Centrelink, none of the recent revelations about how intensely shitty they are to deal with will have come as any surprise to you. Their standard operating procedure seems to be just pummelling you with complete bullshit until you decide that, on the whole, you’d rather eat from your neighbour’s wheelie bins than have to try and eke out money from their very tightly closed fists.

Against all odds, though, they somehow managed to lift their game to higher than ever heights of cockheadedness, thanks to a decision to automate debt recovery using an algorithm originally intended to be used to spot discrepancies that were to then be checked by human beings.

After flicking on the ‘on’ switch in July, roughly 170,000 letters were sent out, advising people that, according to their calculations, they owed an amount to Centrelink. Unfortunately, people were and are frequently being advised of incorrect debt amounts and, thanks to the wording of the letters, are being lead to believe that this is their actual debt, not just advice that they need to update Centrelink with more information.

In addition to that, if the person in question hasn’t updated their contact details (a lot of these debts are from a fair while ago and are being issued to people who haven’t received Centrelink payments for years), Centrelink has been automatically handing the debt over to debt collectors.

The government is finally starting to budge, though, despite continual insistence from Human Services Minister Alan Tudge up until as recently as last week that everything is all ridgey-didge:

“The system is working and we will continue with that system.”

“I’m not aware of individuals who are completely convinced that they don’t owe money but have been given a debt notice.”

Despite being unaware of that happening, Tudge is now enforcing changes to ensure that it stops, with the Centrelink process being adjusted so that debts will not be transferred to debt recovery agencies until after the client is aware of the supposed debt.

Clients will now be able to request an official internal review into their debt before debt proceedings begin and, additionally, Centrelink will attempt to use other government addresses (such as the one registered on the electoral roll) to contact clients. They will also use registered mail and a follow-up phone call to ensure the letters actually end up with the intended recipient.

The government has taken a major hit at the polls over the Centrelink scandal, with one Reachtel poll seeing the government drop from 54 points down to 46, and they are trying their best to simultaneously fix it and insist that it doesn’t need to be fixed in an attempt to salvage the situation.

In a press release today, the Department of Human Services railed against their “misrepresentation” in the media, claiming that it was “misleading” to categorise 20% of the debt letters as issued in “error”:

“Commentary on the department’s online compliance system continues to incorrectly say 20 per cent of letters are being issued in error. This is misleading and a misrepresentation of the process.

“Initial notices request information to explain differences in earned income between the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink records. These result in a debt in 80 per cent of cases. The remaining 20 per cent are instances where people have explained the difference and don’t owe any money following assessment of this updated information.

“This is how the system is designed to work, in line with the legal requirements of welfare recipients to report all changes in circumstances and the department’s obligation to protect government outlays.”

While teeechnically true, they’re doing some very wormy playing around with semantics, as the discrepancies aren’t arising from a failure to disclose “changes in circumstance“, but from their shitty, simplistic algorithm that assumes all money earned in a year occurred evenly throughout the entire year – so, if anything, the fault still lies with them.

The bloody government, hey? What a bunch of bloody clowns.

Source: ABC News.