Showing posts with label middle class welfare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle class welfare. Show all posts

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

CENTRELINK ROBO-DEBT: the nightmare continues

Given that the Turnbull Government continues to apply a faulty algorithm to Centrelink debt collection in 2018, private debt collectors remain financially incentivised to aggressively chase debts which may not actually exist, former welfare recipients may still receive debt recovery fee demands and government intends to expand collection to other groups/forms of declared income, while Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge is yet to fix the problems with ‘phone wait times, perhaps a reminder of what the title Online Compliance Intervention actually hides and what the alternative term robo-debt  describes……..

Cory Doctorow writing in Boing Boing, 1 February 2018:

In a textbook example of the use of big data to create a digital poorhouse, as described in Virginia Eubanks's excellent new book Automating Inequality, the Australian government created an algorithmic, semi-privatised system to mine the financial records of people receiving means-tested benefits and accuse them of fraud on the basis of its findings, bringing in private contractors to build and maintain the system and collect the penalties it ascribed, paying them a commission on the basis of how much money they extracted from poor Australians.

The result was a predictable kafkaesque nightmare in which an unaccountable black box accused poor people, students, pensioners, disabled people and others receiving benefits of owing huge sums, sending abusive, threatening debt collectors after them, and placing all information about the accusations of fraud at the other end of a bureaucratic nightmare system of overseas phone-bank operators with insane wait-times.

GillianTerzis writing in Logic, a magazine about technology, 2017:

Automation is dehumanizing in a literal sense: it removes human experience from the equation. In the case of the robo-debt scandal, automation also stripped humans of their narrative power. The algorithm that generated these debt notices presented welfare recipients with contrasting stories: the recipients claimed they’d followed the rules, but the computer said otherwise.

There were few official ways to explain one’s circumstances: twenty-nine million calls to Centrelink went unanswered in 2016, and Centrelink’s Twitter account seems explicitly designed to discourage conversational exchange. One source of narrative resistance is, a website run entirely by volunteers that gathers false debt stories from ordinary Australians so that the “scandal can't be plausibly minimised or denied.”

Over time it was revealed that many of these debts were miscalculated or, in some cases, non-existent. One man I’d read about was on a government pension and saddled with a $4,500 bill, which was revised down months later to $65. Another recipient, who was on disability as a result of mental illness, had a debt notice of $80,000 that was later recalled. A small proportion of recipients were exclusively in contact with private debt collectors and received no official notice from Centrelink at all.

Soon it emerged that social services were a lucrative avenue for corporate interests: this year’s Senate inquiry revealed that some private agencies tasked with recouping debts were working on a commission basis, pocketing a percentage of the debts they had recovered for the government regardless of their validity. (All debt notices issued by private agencies were eventually rescinded after government review in February 2017.)

The methodology of the algorithm itself was riddled with flaws. It calculates the average of an individual’s annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office …..and compares it with the fortnightly earnings reported to Centrelink by the welfare recipient. All welfare recipients are required to declare their gross earnings (income accrued before tax and other deductions) within this fourteen-day period. Any discrepancy between the two figures is interpreted by the algorithm as proof of undeclared or underreported income, from which a notice of debt is automatically generated.

Previously, these inconsistencies would be handled by Centrelink staff, who would call up your employer, confirm the amount you received in fortnightly payments, and cross-index that figure with the one calculated in the system. But the automation of the debt recovery process has outsourced authority from humans to the algorithm itself.

It’s certainly efficient: it takes the algorithm one week to generate 20,000 debt notices, a process that would take up to a year if done manually. But it’s not a reliable method of fraud detection. It’s blunt, unwieldy, and error-prone. It assumes that variations in the data sets are deliberate, and that recipients have received more than what they are entitled to. What’s more, the onus is on the welfare recipient to prove their income has been reported correctly and that the entitlements they have received are commensurate within twenty-one days.

Yet, as many critics have noted, this income-averaging method is porous. It fails to accurately account for the fluctuating fortunes of casual or contract workers, which often results in variations between the two figures. There’s also no way for the algorithm to correct for basic errors in the system’s database. It cannot yet discern whether an employer’s legal name has been used instead of its various business names—it treats them as separate entities, and therefore separate sources of income—or whether conflicting reports are caused by basic mistakes, such as spelling errors or typos. These seemingly small distinctions are ones that only a human could make. It’s no wonder, then, that conservative estimates of its error rate hover at 20 percent……

Yet the irony of stigmatizing welfare recipients is that better-off Australians are major beneficiaries of social spending. The Australian writer Tim Winton notes that the country’s middle class has “an increasing sense of entitlement to welfare,” which is “duly disbursed largely at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the unemployed.” These include tax concessions on contributions to “superannuation,” which are funds designed to help Australians save for their retirement. Such concessions are distortionary: they’re levied at a flat rate of 15 percent, rather than at a progressive rate according to one’s income, which means their benefits are reaped overwhelmingly by the rich.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics calculates that nearly one third of these concessions are claimed by the top 10 percent of income earners in Australia. Then there are policies like negative gearing, a tax concession that allows you to claim a deduction against your wage income for losses generated by any rental properties you own. (Australia and New Zealand are the only countries in the world to hold such a policy.) In addition, Australian homeowners are entitled to a capital gains tax discount of 50 percent once the property is sold.

Critics have argued that the combination of these two policies only serves to fuel investor speculation, entrench housing unaffordability, and lock first-time home buyers out of the market. But it’s easier to attack the poor than to tax the rich.


In July 2016 the Department of Human Services (DHS) - Centrelink launched a new online compliance intervention (OCI) system for raising and recovering debts. The OCI matches the earnings recorded on a customer’s Centrelink record with historical employer-reported income data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Parts of the debt raising process previously done manually by compliance officers within DHS are now done using this automated process. Customers are asked to confirm or update their income using the online system. If the customer does not engage with DHS either online or in person, or if there are gaps in the information provided by the customer, the system will fill the gaps with a fortnightly income figure derived from the ATO income data for the relevant employment period (‘averaged’ data). 

Since the initial rollout of the OCI, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office has received many complaints from people who have incurred debts under the OCI. This report examines our concerns with the implementation of the OCI, using complaints we investigated as case study examples. 

We acknowledge the changes DHS has made to the OCI since its initial rollout. The changes have been positive and have improved the usability and accessibility of the system. However, we consider there are several areas where further improvements could be made, particularly before use of the OCI is expanded. We have made several recommendations to address these areas......

Planning and risk management

In our view, many of the OCI’s implementation problems could have been mitigated through better project planning and risk management at the outset. This includes more rigorous user testing with customers and service delivery staff, a more incremental rollout, and better communication to staff and stakeholders. DHS’ project planning did not ensure all relevant external stakeholders were consulted during key planning stages and after the full rollout of the OCI. This is evidenced by the extent of confusion and inaccuracy in public statements made by key non-government stakeholders, journalists and individuals.

A key lesson for agencies and policy makers when proposing to rollout large scale measures which require people to engage in a new way with new digital channels, is for agencies to engage with stakeholders and provide resources for adequate manual support during transition periods. We have recommended DHS undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the OCI in its current form before it is implemented further and any future rollout should be done incrementally.

Centrelink website, 5 February 2018:

If you don’t pay your debt by the due date, we may ask the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to send us your tax refund. If we do we’ll send you a Recovery of your Centrelink debt letter.

If you aren’t repaying your debt over time or if we haven’t agreed to extend the payment time, we may also:

* add an interest charge to your debt

* refer your debt to an external collection agency

* reduce your income support payments to help pay the amount owing

* recover the amount from your wages, other income and assets, including money you may hold in a bank account

* refer your case to our solicitors for legal action

* issue a Departure Prohibition Order to stop you from travelling overseas....

The rate of interest we apply to your debt is consistent with the current rate applied by the ATO to tax debts. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

News Corp joins Turnbull Government in bashing welfare recipients yet again

A report released by the Federal Government's Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW] on 19 October 2017 states that welfare spending in 2016 reached 9.5 per cent of Australia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) having been increasing on average by 0.09 per cent or est. $4 billion annually over the last ten financial years.

Some of this increase is inevitably due to population growth over the same period - between 2006 and 2016 the national population grew by 3.18 million people to reach a population total of 24.20 million.

However, the media suitably primed began to discuss welfare costs principally in terms of cash transfers to Centrelink clients.

But does such discussion take in the whole picture of welfare costs in this country? 

According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) there are a large number of concessions, offsets and rebates available to working and retired individuals, active businesses, family trusts and superannuation funds.

These can reduce the annual tax payable by an individual, business, trust or fund – sometimes as low as zero dollars.

Along with universal education and health services, Centrelink and Veterans’ Affairs pensions, benefits, and concessions; these ATO concessions, offsets and rebates are a form of government welfare.

So when the Murdoch media trumpet statistics like Last year, more than 733,000 people received unemployment benefits, costing $10 billionwith est. 68 per cent of recipients moving off this payment within a year - remember that Australian Government tariff, budgetary assistance and tax concessions to primary, mining, manufacturing and services industries totalled $15.1 billion in 2015-16 and, based on past performance, an estimated 33 per cent of all businesses would probably have paid zero tax in that year.

Put simply, Australian Government welfare directed at industry cost taxpayers est. $41.3 million per day in 2015-16.

And when these same News Corp megaphones go on to state that “more than 100,000 jobseekers who were on the dole for at least five years had cost taxpayers $15 billion over the past decade” – readers might like to recall that the Australian Government spent in the vicinity of est. $96 billion on industry assistance in the six years commencing 2010-11 and ending 2015-16.

[Australian Government, Productivity Commission Annual Report Series, Trade & Assistance Review 2015-16]

If a similar level of government assistance were to continue for another four financial years then government welfare received by industry would reach est. $156 billion over ten years.

That's over ten times the quoted amount in welfare payments outlaid on the long term unemployed in a decade.

However, when the likes of Liberal Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, Liberal Minister for Social Services Christian Porter, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz or One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson talk about the cost of government welfare programs they rather strangely neglect to look at the full range of federal government financial assistance across all sectors of the economy – preferring instead to target vulnerable groups of people with little ability to fight back against their distorted, punitive and highly politicised world views.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: the pain that awaits under a second Abbott-Turnbull Government

If there is a second term for this Abbott-Turnbull federal government it will be one characterized by high public debt and increased borrowings.

With a taxation revenue stream that has been deliberately limited by a $4 billion dollar giveaway to people whose level of earned income already cushions them from the realities experienced by average and low income households and, a further $48.4 billion hit to the revenue bottom line so that government can cut the company tax rate of an est. 2.121 million businesses - 70 per cent of whom don't paid the full rate anyway.

To keep their ship afloat Turnbull & Co would need to implement all those punitive Abbott-era cuts that were predominately aimed at working class households.

Which means among other things, an extension of the 2013-14 indexation freeze on Medicare rebates paid to specialist doctors, GPs and allied health professionals in an attempt to force them to pass on the shortfall to patients as a co-payment. As well as the introduction on 1 July 2016 of upfront payments for x-ray, imaging and pathology services.

Eligibility for Family Tax Benefits will be tightened and government paid parental leave payment rules will be changed to exclude more mothers.

The regressive Good & Services Tax (GST) has also been broaden so that from 1 July 2016 goods purchased overseas via the Internet will attract this tax.

From September this year anyone 22 years and over applying for Newstart Allowance will receive payment at a lower rate - each fortnightly cash transfer for a single unemployed person (with no children) will be $8.80 less and for unemployed couples (with no children) it will be $15.80 less. 

This means that a single person eligible to receive Newstart who applies in September will only have an est. $259.40 per week on which to live and look for work, while couples will only receive an est. $468.50 each week. With average rents in the Sydney metropolitan area ranging between $500-$530 at the beginning of this year, rental stress is likely to increase in unemployed households.

Liberal and Nationals federal politicians are denying that they are conducting "class warfare" yet large tax cuts are going to the top 25 per cent of income earners and will eventually will be extended to businesses with annual turnovers in the billions of dollars, while the economically and socially vulnerable are told they deserve less.

Indeed spatial demographics demonstrate the Coalition's further widening of social and economic division in this country.

On 6 May 2016 The Age revealed that the biggest proportion of income earners who will benefit fully from these personal income tax cuts are in Prime Minister Turnbull's high socio-economic status electorate of Wentworth, where more than a third will have more in their pockets after tax. With the western Sydney electorate of Fowler having the nation's lowest proportion of taxpayers who qualify for the tax cut. In its suburbs of Liverpool, Cabramatta and Green Valley, just one in 20 earners have a taxable income higher than the new tax threshold.

While The Guardian on 7 May reported that, in the relatively lower socio-economic status regional electorate of Page on the NSW Far North Coast, 94.2% of taxpayers would miss out on that same cut in the tax rate because their taxable income was below $80,000 a year. Similarly, neighbouring Richmond and Cowper electorates would see 92.3% and 94.0% respectively missing out on the tax cut.

A brief look at what to expect..........

Unlegislated measures carried forward in the budget estimates—February 2016 update. Date issued: 3 February 2016. Date revised: 12: 30pm, 10 March 2016

The first Turnbull budget will be propped up by about $13 billion of so-called "zombie measures", which are still on the books from the first and second Abbott budgets but have not yet been passed by the Senate.
A parliamentary budget office count for the coming financial year puts the "ghost" measures at $1.7 billion. The biggest are the $600 million from planned cuts to access to Family Tax Benefits, $258 million from the outlawing of alleged double-dipping of maternity leave schemes, and $139 million from increasing co-payments and changing the safety net for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

2016-17 Budget PapersStatement 6: Debt Statement, Assets and Liabilities, 3 May 2016:

Net debt is expected to be $326.0 billion (18.9 per cent of GDP) in 2016‑17. Net debt is projected to peak at 19.2 per cent of GDP in 2017‑18, before declining over the medium term to a projected 9.1 per cent of GDP ($264 billion) in 2026-27.The end-of-year face value of Commonwealth Government Securities (CGS) on issue subject to the Treasurer's Direction [government borrowing] is expected to be $497 billion in 2016‑17 and is expected to increase to $581 billion in 2019-20. By the end of the medium term (2026‑27) the total face value of CGS on issue is projected to rise to $640 billion.

2016-17 Budget PapersStatement 4: Revenue, 3 May 2016:

The 2016-17 Budget forecasts for tax receipts, excluding new policy, have been revised down since the 2015-16 MYEFO by $4.6 billion in 2016-17 and $13.5 billion over the four years to 2018-19. Excluding GST, tax receipts are forecast to be $4.6 billion lower in 2016-17 and $14.2 billion lower over the four years to 2018-19…..
the forecast for nominal GDP has been revised down by $27.5 billion over the four years to 2018-19….
In 2016-17, tax receipts as a share of GDP are expected to be 22.2 per cent, lower than the 2015-16 MYEFO estimate of 22.5 per cent.

Financial Review, 3 May 2016:

The government will spend almost $4 billion over the next four years to stop 500,000 taxpayers moving into the second-highest tax bracket…..

2016-17 Budget Papers Part 1: Revenue Measures, 3 May 2016:

The GST will be extended to low value goods imported by consumers from 1 July 2017….
The intent of this measure is that low value goods imported by consumers will face the same tax regime as goods that are sourced domestically.
Overseas suppliers that have an Australian turnover of $75,000 or more will be required to register for, collect and remit GST for low value goods supplied to consumers in Australia, using a vendor registration model.

The Guardian, 4 May 2016:

Asked about the plan to increase the threshold at which the 37% tax bracket kicks in from $80,000 to $87,000 – a tax cut of a bit over $300 a year for the top 25% of earners – the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, told ABC radio that even if it was not legislated when he called the federal election at the end of the week it would be implemented "administratively".

On Tuesday the federal government announced it will increase the tobacco excise by 12.5 per cent a year for the next four years.
The plan will cause the price of a packet of 25 cigarettes to rise to about $40, up from $25 today.

ABC News, 5 May 2016:

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to confirm the 10-year cost of the proposal to cut tax for all firms to 25 per cent over a decade.
The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has estimated the proposal, which will be phased in over time and benefit small and medium-sized businesses first, will cost $16.5 billion a year in 2026-27. However, during an interview with Sky News, Mr Turnbull would not confirm that figure, despite being asked more than a dozen times for an explanation.

The Australian, 6 May 2016:

Treasury has revealed a hit to revenue of $48.2 billion over 10 years from the Coalition’s plan to cut company taxes….
The government policy starts by cutting the company tax rate to 27.5 per cent to all companies with a turnover of up to $10 million, taking effect from July….
will be extended to bigger companies year by year, followed by several years of cutting the overall rate to 25 per cent for all companies.

Anyone who signs up for welfare from September 20 will get less than those already on it, creating a two-tiered payments system…..
The government is removing an "energy supplement" 
Newstart Allowance payments have steadily decreased in relative terms over the past two decades to less than 40 per cent of the minimum wage……
The cut comes as national youth unemployment is nearly 13 per cent.

Centrelink, 7 May 2016:

Payment rates for Newstart Allowance…..
single, no children $527.60 [per fortnight]
[couple] $952.80 [per fortnight]

[Newstart non-indexed] Rates include Energy Supplement of $8.80 (single, no children), $7.90 (each member of a couple) and $9.50 (single with children or over 60 after 9 months) per fortnight.

ABC News, 14 January 2016:

The typical Sydney unit rent was $500 a week, while a house was $530 in December 2015.

14 May 2013 Suspension of MBS rebate indexation until 1 July 2014 to align indexation with financial year, announced in 2013-2014 Federal Budget.
13 May 2014 Indexation freeze for specialists, allied health professionals, nurse practitioners, midwives and dental surgeons MBS and DVA rebates until 30 June 2016, announced in 2014-2015 budget.
1 July 2015 Rebate indexation freeze commences…..
The Federal Government is reducing its investment in your healthcare by freezing your Medicare rebates. This means your Medicare rebates will remain the same until 1 July 2018, despite the cost of services increasing. The freeze is a co-payment by stealth and the Government has implemented this measure to reduce the amount it spends on all Medicare subsidised services, including general practice services. ….
Practices where a large proportion or all services are bulk billed will be significantly affected. The rebate freeze will have a detrimental impact on the viability of the practice. These practices may need to consider introducing or increasing out-of-pocket expenses to ensure the sustainability of the practice.
Individual GPs employed by a practice may be asked by their practice to pay a larger service fee to cover increasing practice costs.
Patients will experience a reduction in the value of their MBS patient rebate over time. 
The impacts will be magnified for GPs and practices providing patient services in lower socio-economic areas, where a majority of patients are from vulnerable groups (such as pensioners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people on very low incomes.). Many people in these areas cannot afford to meet out-of-pocket costs for care.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Was Bronwyn having another bad hair day yesterday?

Not content with getting her marching orders from the House of Representatives earlier in the day, Bronwyn Bishop (the Member for Mackellar and former Minister for 'Kerosene Baths') fiddled with the truth when she spoke in the chamber later in the day yesterday.

Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar) (18:49): ... I have had conversations with people who had abided by the previous scheme and kept their receipts and claimed them. They actually got more money back than they will get out of the cash splash, which the government has dressed up as an education bonus but requires no evidence of being spent on education at all.

Bishop was referring to the SchoolKids Bonus and what she failed to do was tell the whole story.

In a previous post clarencegirl pointed out:

"the federal government website states; The Education Tax Refund provides up to 50% back on a range of children's education expenses.

Seems Ms Bishop was speaking with well-heeled constituents who are going to miss out on the bonus because ... are you ready for the truth? ... they don't qualify for it. And why don't they qualify for it? Their earnings are such that won't get it because they don't need it.

Really, what Bishop was doing was speaking to prop up middle class welfare spending that should be given the drop-kick more often.