Contributed by Ben Wilson
Here are the significant parts of a letter from someone working in the Centrelink system. It provides an insider view of a system, organised to punish those who find themselves out of work, who cannot work because for health reasons or have too look after kids, and those who have entered into retirement, but do not have a big bank account to see them through. There is a mountain of evidence to show that these Australians are regarded in this system as expandable and that every opportunity to deny income support must be taken. Centrelink employees are also victims. The Robo Debt system is still in full swing. Those who are forced to administer the punishment do not like what they are being forced to do. They try to do try the best they can for those they come across, and sometimes, they are driven to speak out.
This is how the letter begins.
“I am a compliance officer with Centrelink. I’m writing because I along with so many of my co-workers, have tried to stop the wrong that is being done to thousands of our customers on a daily basis, and I can no longer live with what we are doing.
“I spoke confidentially to my wife and she has urged me to speak out about what is actually happening inside Centrelink, before it is covered up.
“Both myself and my wife understand this could mean that I lose my position.”
“What is known to date is literally the tip of the iceberg, compared to the true scope of the deliberate wrongful actions that are being deployed under the department’s Online Compliance Intervention (OCI) review process, which is raising debts that are incorrect for far more reasons than anyone outside the organisation knows about.”
“Within the organisation, it is well known that there are errors in the program, and compliance officers are directed to ignore incorrect debts, without being permitted to correct them.
“When we report errors, it falls on deaf ears, or we are told that the issue is already known and we will have to cancel the corrections.”
The letter then goes on to talk about the measures used to create Centrelink debts.
- Doubling Income. A person’s entire income from the same employer is doubled up or certain parts of their income are duplicated, like leave and termination payments
- Non-Assessable Income. Items are included as income, which should not be counted, like expense reimbursements and some paid parental leave payments.
- Fictitious Payments. The system is generating debts based on payments that Centrelink never made. It’s even possible to have a debt claim larger than a person’s total Centrelink payment.
- False Recovery Fees. Recovery fees are regularly being applied when they shouldn’t and can be much larger than the set fee of 10 percent.
- Corrupted Review. Compliance officers are directed not to fix these errors, even when they have the evidence, and their work is rejected when they do. Even on appeal, errors will only be corrected if the person specifically identifies them, which can be nearly impossible.
In addition, a person’s entire income from the same employer might be duplicated. To show this, the letter quotes an internal memo.
“Person reports $35,000 in income from ‘Labourpower Recruitment.’ ATO data shows $35,000 in income from ‘Labourpower Recruitment services Pty Ltd.’
“This is clearly the same company, but the automated system treats them as two different companies and doubles up the income to $70,000. Then it raises a debt based on the person not declaring $35,000 in income.”
The letter concludes with the following.
“We are struggling daily with our consciences and pushing back against our leaders every single day … I see these reviews every working day and I am horrified at what I am being directed to do.
“I am risking my job sending this information in the desperate hope that exposing such as corrupt and unjust system might just make a difference.”