Let’s talk about facts

Public discussion continues to present false accounts of the Department of Humans Services’ online compliance review system.

The department has already rejected unsubstantiated claims from anonymous staff in statements last week, including refuting allegations about the treatment of exempt income. All assessments appropriately consider assessable and non-assessable income.

 General Manager Hank Jongen said ongoing media reporting also continues to misrepresent how the system works, such as purporting a 20 per cent error rate.

 “The Australian community keeps hearing that 20 per cent of these review letters are sent out in error,” Mr Jongen said. “This is just wrong.

 “What the system does is generate a letter that tells welfare recipients we have information from the Australian Taxation Office about their earnings which is different to what is on their Centrelink payment records.

 “This notice asks people to confirm or update their employment earning details. This is not a debt letter – it is seeking information which people who receive a Centrelink payment are required by law to provide.

 “We then use this to make an assessment about whether people have received the right entitlement.

 “In 20 per cent of cases, people update their details and it results in them not owing money. That doesn’t mean the letter was sent in error. It just means we’ve received up to date information and the matter is now resolved.

 “We have confidence in the system and how it is helping us conduct compliance activity more efficiently.

 “There is no basis for suggesting the error rate is 90 per cent. This is a figure plucked out of the air that doesn’t serve the public discussion well. It’s absolutely wrong and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the system.

 “When people log on, they are being presented an opportunity to review information and advise whether they agree or would like to provide further detail. No assessment is made before then.

 “Staff are available to assist every step of the way. People are given plenty of time to respond and they can obtain extensions if needed.

 “Anyone who has a query about the letters or using the online system can call the designated number – 1800 086 400. People can find this number by clicking on the ‘help’ button on any of the main screens of the online tool.”