30 March 2017 – Correction of Family Tax Benefit misreporting by Fairfax Media

Fairfax Media has failed readers with sensationalist and selective reporting on the Department of Human Services’ delivery of Family Tax Benefit payments.

This reporting (29 and 30 March, 2017) displays utter ignorance of the system and misrepresents our submission to the Senate Inquiry on the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative. We also note we were not approached for clarifying information or comment before this story was printed.

As the name suggests, Family Tax Benefit is directly linked to the tax system. When it is paid fortnightly, it is paid in advance and based on a person’s estimate of taxable income. This means people must lodge their tax returns before we can properly assess and reconcile their entitlements.

People are clearly instructed on the website, in letters and via SMS messages that they must submit their tax return, or tell us they don’t need to, otherwise they will be required to pay back any FTB they have received.

We have to routinely remind people to keep their tax affairs up to date. As stated in our submission, we send these reminders every March to recipients who haven’t lodged their tax returns or told us that they don’t have to do so.

Last year, we sent 260,000 of those reminders, but not everyone responded to this central eligibility requirement. As a result, 65,000 received debt notices. Of these, a third ended up with no debt because they eventually did what we had been asking them to do and submitted their tax details.

This is how FTB reconciliations are meant to work and have done since FTB was introduced 17 years ago.

The debt notices were not, ‘bogus’, as Fairfax Media incorrectly stated, they were due to people not meeting their obligations for the receipt of payments from Australian taxpayers.