Tuesday 14 May 2024

Centrepay remains a dysfunctional gamble for many welfare recipients in 2024


Unfortunately the Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme did little to rid the Australian Public Service of all key individuals nurturing the rotting cores of the Dept. of Social Services, Services Australia, NDIS and Centrelink.

The Guardian, 13 May 2024:

Energy giant Origin wrongly received money from the welfare payments of former customers via the government-run Centrepay debit system, the Guardian can reveal.

Origin is now the third energy retailer known to have wrongly received money via Centrepay from vulnerable and low-income Australians after they had ceased being customers.

Centrepay gives approved businesses early access to welfare payments, prior to them hitting a welfare recipient’s bank account, a system designed to ensure individuals always have enough for essentials like rent and energy.

But a Guardian Australia investigation has identified deep and ongoing problems with the system. In one case, the Centrepay system allowed energy giant AGL to continue to take welfare money from more than 500 people who had ceased being AGL customers, resulting in overpayments over a period of years totalling about $700,000. The company says it has now paid that money back.

In other cases, Centrepay has helped to financially prop up a disgraced Christian rehabilitation centre practising gay conversion therapy and forced baptisms, and allowed rent-to-buy household appliance retailers to take excessive amounts from the welfare payments of customers in remote Indigenous communities.

Origin Energy is the biggest user of Centrepay of any energy retailer. The ASX-listed company had 32,894 residential customers paying for their energy using Centrepay last financial year, about 1.8% of its total customer base.

But Guardian Australia can reveal that Origin has also wrongly received money from the welfare payments of people who had ceased being its customers.

A spokesperson confirmed Origin had identified “issues relating to payments made through the Centrepay scheme”.

We proactively reported these issues to Services Australia, have been attempting to contact impacted customers and are working with Services Australia to process refunds to customers,” the spokesperson said. “We have also strengthened our processes in relation to Centrepay payments.”

Both Services Australia and the energy company declined to say how many customers were affected or how much in welfare payments was wrongly received by Origin.

In response to a question on notice by a Greens senator, Penny Allman-Payne, the government confirmed that it was currently working to return Centrepay overpayments from three utilities companies and three “household services” companies.

Services Australia would not release details of which companies were affected......

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