8 February 2019 – Correction of inaccurate reporting on InnovationAus.com

The introduction of the online portal did not change how data-matching was completed or the way income was assessed and differences calculated.

Data-matching, sending letters and assessing and calculating differences in income and payments has been part of compliance activities since the 1990s.

It is inaccurate to say that the system automatically issued debt notices. Letters initiated at the start of a compliance review are not debt letters. To refer to them as debt letters is factually incorrect. 

No debt notice is issued until the customer has had the opportunity to assist with resolving the discrepancy. Even after a debt has been raised, a customer can update their details or provide more information to have the debt reassessed. They can also request a formal review.

Where a debt is reassessed, it does not necessarily mean that the original decision was incorrect, as that decision was based on information available at the time.

The department has introduced enhancements to the online system, to make it easier for people to review and update their income details online. This includes allowing our customers to use bank statements in addition to payslips to update their information and more options to record income across a variety of payment frequencies.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman reviewed the online compliance system, and confirmed that the system of calculation being used is comprehensive and accurately captures the legislative and policy requirements.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman found that claims of a “20 per cent error rate” are incorrect and the number of debts raised by the online compliance system is consistent with the previous manual process. The Commonwealth Ombudsman also found the system calculates debts accurately based on the information when the decision is made, it is entirely reasonable and appropriate in asking recipients to explain discrepancies in data, and the method of data matching has not changed in approach for many years. 

The department is committed to working with customers to explain why a debt has been incurred. We have a designated team handling enquiries which customers can reach directly by calling the number in their letter.

As reported in response to Questions on Notice at Senate Estimates last year, as at 31 January 2018 approximately $865 million in savings had been raised for all income data matching measures announced in the 2015-16 Budget.