The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s latest report into welfare compliance has once again validated Centrelink’s debt calculation systems as being accurate.
General Manager Hank Jongen said the report also showed that the Department of Human Services had thoroughly addressed the recommendations from the Ombudsman’s first review of the system in early 2017.
“The Ombudsman is satisfied that we have significantly improved the way we communicate with our customers to ensure they better understand the way debts are calculated and have greater access to support if they wish to have a debt reviewed,” Mr Jongen said.
“This report also finds that complaints have considerably reduced since 2017 because of the work that has been done to enhance our processes. The report says:
The income confirmation process, including online and manual interventions, is now fairer and more transparent. Greater clarity in written and online communication mean the process is now more robust in its procedural fairness and usability.
“Importantly the Ombudsman’s view is that allowing customers to provide information at any stage of their review, potentially reducing the debt amount, reflects a reassessment process functioning as it should.
“We know that the wait time for people to get through to the compliance line is very short and the Ombudsman says they no longer receive complaints about people accessing support over the phone.
“They found the steps we’ve taken to implement the recommendations from 2017 have resulted in a reduction in complaints and their analysis identified no new systemic issues.
The report says:
Better internal communication, and enhancements to the service offer (for example, making outbound calls prior to raising debts and promoting direct access to a well-staffed dedicated hotline) have improved accessibility to compliance officers and bolstered the fairness of the process.
“Much of the current public discussion about the system relates to concerns addressed two years ago and does not reflect what is happening now.
“The Ombudsman’s first investigation delivered in April 2017 found the system of debt calculations were accurate and reassessments of debts were not errors.
“Since then, the department has made further significant improvements and thoroughly addressed the recommendations from that report. This included building a new online portal with improved explanations and prompting, as well as enhanced staff support.
“Online and manual processes were evaluated and designed to the Ombudsman’s satisfaction, using input from stakeholders and feedback from user testing by customers.
“The Ombudsman’s new report makes an additional four recommendations about further improvements. We have agreed to work with the Ombudsman on these as we consider they will further strengthen the online compliance programme and improve communication with our customers.”