These guys are not exactly ‘dole bludgers’


These guys are not exactly ‘dole bludgers’
  1. These guys are not exactly ‘dole bludgers’
    news.com.au
    DOCTORS from a top Australian university say they too were hit with erroneous Centrelink debt notices — and even a PhD can’t sort out the…
    Money

DOCTORS from top Australian universities say they too were hit with erroneous Centrelink debt notices — and even they can’t seem to fix the mistakes.

Darren O’Connell, who has a PhD in economics and lectured at Curtin University, told news.com.au he has tried eight times since November to get his inaccurate debt removed from the system, but the letters keep coming.

His case has not been reviewed as is his entitlement, but instead referred to debt collection agency Dun & Bradstreet, who are chasing him for $321.53 from FY10-11, plus 10 per cent in recovery fees.

“The process and logic used by Centrelink is both flawed, dangerous and opaque,” he told news.com.au. “This process assumes people are guilty and it is up to us to prove our innocence.”

Like the thousands of Australians slugged with inaccurate debt notices, Dr O’Connell has been the victim of Centrelink’s bungled automated data matching with the Australian Taxation Office.

“Centrelink makes a number of flawed assumptions,” he said. “The first is to assume that each taxpayer was employed as a PAYG employee for the period of time listed on the group certificate. The second assumption is that the person was earning an equal amount of income each week, or other sub-period. Centrelink further assumes that the person should have reporting this income, whether it was real or not, during the period of time they were receiving an eligible benefit.”

Darren O’Connell, who has a PhD in economics, has tried eight times since November to sort out his inaccurate debt of just over $300.

Darren O’Connell, who has a PhD in economics, has tried eight times since November to sort out his inaccurate debt of just over $300.Source:Supplied

The 41-year-old, from Katoomba in NSW, has now spent hours trying to obtain payslips from his former employer, for whom he stopped working in October 2011.

“The staff at Centrelink have been unable to grasp the concept of contracting and that just because a group certificate has dates of employment, it does not follow that income was derived equally over this period,” he said. “This indicates a dangerous level of incompetence.”

Laurton McGurk also worked for Curtin Unversity on a casual basis while completing a biology PhD, and said wages sometimes came through months late because of a “messy” payroll system. But Dr McGurk, who is now at the University of Western Australia, says she always reported her income as it was earned to Centrelink.

“In late October of 2016, I got an email saying there was a letter in MyGov for me from Centrelink,” she told news.com.au. “When I opened the email, the PDF was blank. As I wasn’t a Centrelink client any more, I didn’t think much of it.

“In late November, I got an SMS late on a Sunday evening announcing my income assessment was complete and I owed over $2000 due to an overpayment arising from the PAYG statement for 2010-11, which includes income arising from work done in 2009-10.

“I have supplied payslips, made over six phone calls, taken screenshots of broken links and even supplied an excel spreadsheet detailing what I was paid in 2010-11 and when I did actual work for each payslip.

Laurton McGurk, PhD, says she won’t accept bullying from a “badly designed computer system” that wrongly thinks she has $2000 debt.

Laurton McGurk, PhD, says she won’t accept bullying from a “badly designed computer system” that wrongly thinks she has $2000 debt.Source:Supplied

“The program they are using is crude but the system they have built around it is also designed to funnel people into debt recovery not into review. I was and am extremely grateful for the assistance I received from Centrelink but I am not going to pay back a debt I did not incur and I’m not going to let this badly designed computer bully badger others who may be in the same predicament.”

Social Services Minister Christian Porter this week insisted the online compliance system was “working as intended” and that the initial letters, sent out at a rate of 20,000 a week, are not debt letters but requests for extra information about data discrepancies.

“If a debt is raised at a later point, as it is in 80 per cent of cases, this is because the individual acknowledges a mistake in their original income reporting, or provides no explanation at all, or provides an unsatisfactory explanation,” he said. “The rate of error is measured in terms of finally issued debts being raised but overturned and present indications are that this will be less than 1.6 per cent.

“Seeking an explanation as to why there is a difference in the information reported to Centrelink and the information reported to the ATO from the person concerned and receiving a satisfactory explanation is not an error on the part of Centrelink — it is Centrelink doing its job and the person fulfilling the basic responsibility of receiving welfare being that they provide information about their income when requested. This is critical to ensuring the integrity of the welfare system.”

Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney says Centrelink is at “breaking point” and is asking the Australian National Audit Office for an audit. Picture Kym Smith

Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney says Centrelink is at “breaking point” and is asking the Australian National Audit Office for an audit. Picture…

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