Showing posts with label welfare payments. Show all posts
Showing posts with label welfare payments. Show all posts

Friday, 22 May 2020

North Coast Voices received a takedown notice on 19 May 2020


On 24 April 2018 North Coast Voices published a blog post title "Hank Jorgen and Centrelink unleash the dogs…..".

On 19 May 2020 the blog received a Google takedown notice for that particular post, effective immediately.

Now apart from its title, the post only contained one sentence of comment by North Coast Voices:

"Forget establishing that an actual debt exists – this is 2018 and come hell or high water the Turnbull Government wants to use Centrelink to prop up its financial bottom line in time for the May 2018 budget papers."

The remainder of the post comprised of extracts from two online mainstream media articles - one by journalist Alice Workman published by Buzzfeed and the other by journalist Noel Towell published by the Canberra Times. These extracts were followed by inclusion of five tweets politely critical of 'robodebt' and two links to NotMyDebt.

Both media articles are still online.

So what sin had North Coast Voices committed?

Well apparently it had used a BuzzFeed extract which mentioned a business called Detective Desk - an IT company whose services were used by at least one debt collection agency (Australian Receivables Ltd) whom Services Australia had contracted until 3 February 2021 to assist with debt management/recovery under the automated data matching Online Compliance Intervention System process aka robodebt.

One can deduce this because the 2017 Buzzfeed article now has a new headline and is prefaced by a grovelling apology which runs thus:

CORRECTION

An earlier version of this article, which was entitled 'Your private information is being sent overseas by Centrelink', included some statements about Detective Desk which were corrected and are retracted by BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed regrets these errors.

One has to wonder if the unknown person or persons who decided to chase up mention of this company and remove any part of the original Buzzfeed article from view after all these years was doing so because a class action is now underway in the Federal Court of Australia which may expose the full lengths that Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison, first as Minister for Social Services, then Federal Treasurer and finally as Prime Minister, went to in order to unlawfully claw back money from vulnerable welfare recipients.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

How will up to 7.2 million Australians respond to Scott Morrison's willingness to abandon them in the worst global recession since the Great Depression


"Fiscal measures will need to be scaled up if the stoppages to economic activity are persistent, or the pickup in activity as restrictions are lifted is too weak."  [IMF WORLD ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: THE GREAT LOCKDOWN, April 2020] 

Brisbane Times, 15 May 2020:

Something has changed in the Liberal Party since John Howard was prime minister. Key business lobbies now have such a grip they can frogmarch the government towards political suicide.

It is only weeks since a million Australians lost their jobs by government decree to protect us all from a health crisis. Most are yet to receive their first benefits, but the government has said the guiding principles on the way out will be self-reliance and personal responsibility.


The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have moved in recent weeks to flag that the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs are a short-term aberration and will be returning to their traditional small-government, competitive-individualism philosophy.


‘‘Open markets will be central ... not government,’’ declared the Treasurer on Tuesday. ‘‘The values and principles that have guided us in the past ... encouraging personal responsibility, maximising personal choice, rewarding effort and risk-taking’’ will be central.


It is hard to imagine a more tone-deaf piece of communication to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who are now gripped by sleepless nights about where their next job is going to come from and whether they will lose their houses.


Social movement research has found that you only need 2.5 per cent of people to be in a political movement for it to be large enough to drive major political and social reform. That is enough for everyone to have friends and family involved and to feel personally connected to the issue.


Almost every Australian will have someone they love who has lost a job in the past six weeks. Telling people they are on their own has to be pretty much at the top of the "what not to do list" in the political leadership manual. Yet Scott Morrison is not an idiot or an ideologue, so why is he doing it?


Even if the government was privately planning this approach, you wouldn’t expect the Prime Minister to say it publicly. The announcements suggest he is having to quell his own political storm and there is a pile-on going on behind the scenes. It is the wrong message for most Australians, but it is the right message for those who dictate his grip on power.


Some of it will be the same Coalition ideologues cum powerbrokers who are worried the pandemic response is a symbolic loss. These tribal warriors are not going to let the fact the country is in the grip of an unfolding catastrophe distract them from the red team-blue team contest.


However, they are not the only force in play. Leaders of our largest businesses are embracing the maxim "Don’t waste a good crisis". They are circling the carcass of the not-yet-cold COVID economy, and seeking to take the opportunity to drive through some long-sought-after tax cuts and industrial relations reform.....


One has to wonder how Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg came to believe that the 1. 7 million people expected to be unemployed by September 2020 will fare well going into the worst recession since the Great Depression where the unemployment rate is predicted to be 13 per cent for starters. 

Or why he believes the up to 5.5 million workers, hanging onto insecure jobs which are only guaranteed for as long as businesses are receiving government wage subsidies for their workers, will all keep those jobs when the subsidy ends on 27 September 2020.

This is the changed reality that the Liberal & National parties must face:

The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 2020







If Scott Morrison continues down this track, what will Christmas look like?

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

One aspect of Scott Morrison's personal war on the poor and vulnerable becomes the subject of a legitimate study


Income management quarantines a portion of social security payments, placing these funds in a special account that can only be used to pay for essentials such as food and bills, and cannot be used to purchase alcohol or tobacco. Compulsory income management was first introduced to Australia - and, indeed, the world - in 2007 as part of the Northern Territory Emergency Response (‘the intervention’), and has been through several incarnations in the decade since. A comparable policy - ‘money management’ - was introduced to New Zealand in 2012.

While numerous government evaluations of income management have been undertaken in Australia, their findings have been inconsistent. Stakeholders and politicians alike have called for a rigorous and independent study of the program to better understand its impacts.

To date, no evaluations - independent or otherwise - have been conducted into money management in New Zealand.

This project therefore represents the first large independent study of compulsory income management in Australia and New Zealand. It investigates how income management has developed as a policy, how it is being implemented by service providers, and how it affects the lives, choices and autonomy of benefit recipients.

A key aim of this study is understand the lived experiences of those who are subject to compulsory income management, and feed these findings back to policymakers.  [About The Study, February 2020]

University of Queensland, media release, 25 February 2020:

COMPULSORY INCOME MANAGEMENT ‘DISABLING, NOT ENABLING’, STUDY SHOWS

Restricting where and on what social security payments can be spent does more harm than good, according to the first large, independent study into Compulsory Income Management (CIM) policies in Australia.

The University of Queensland’s Professor Greg Marston said the majority of participants using the BasicsCard or Cashless Debit Card reported practical difficulties making purchases and paying bills, which introduced new instability into their lives.

Income management proponents say it can stabilise recipients’ lives and finances, and our study found some people have experienced these benefits,” Professor Marston said.

However many more people have faced additional financial challenges because of the policies.

Many also found their expenses had increased as they were blocked from participating in the cash economy and burdened with new fees and charges.”

The study team said CIM had often been framed as an intervention to strengthen benefit recipients’ independence, build responsibility and help transition people away from “welfare dependency” and into work.

Professor Marston said previous evaluations had raised significant concerns about the capacity of income management policies to meet their stated objectives, yet income management continued to be expanded.

There have been recent moves to extend the Cashless Debit Card across the Northern Territory, but our findings show that CIM has in fact weakened many participants’ financial capabilities and autonomy,” he said.

To manage their finances, many participants have become reliant on family members, service providers or automatic payment systems.”

Researcher Dr Michelle Peterie said the study was unique for its focus on individuals’ and communities’ experiences with the Cashless Debit Card and BasicsCard.

These voices have frequently been lost or ignored in the policy debate,” she said.

Dr Peterie said the research showed a voluntary, opt-in form of income management could have a place, however the social, emotional and economic costs of continuing with a compulsory, widespread system outweighed the benefits.

The overwhelming finding is that compulsory income management is having a disabling rather than enabling affect on the lives of many social security recipients,” Dr Peterie said.

This was true across all of our research sites.”

Professor Marston said a policy approach that focused on providing employment and training opportunities and ensuring accessible social services and affordable housing would be a better starting point for creating healthy, economically secure and socially inclusive communities.

The research involved 114 in-depth interviews, conducted at four trial sites (Playford, Shepparton, Ceduna and Hinkler), and a mixed-methods survey of 199 people at income management sites across Australia.

ENDS


Image: The Conversation, 26 February 2020



Sunday, 9 February 2020

State of Play in Scott Morrison's Personal War On The Poor And Vulnerable: at least 9,600 angry people are taking on the federal government over 'robodebt'


These emails are just two examples of correspondance which has seen the light of day, concerning the legality of Morrison Coalition Government's Dept. of Human Services-Centrelink income compliance program or 'robodebt', since government made admissions in Amarto v The Commonwealth and was notified of an intent by certain persons to commence a class action arguing that the Commonwealth has taken money from Centrelink recipients unjustly.











The emails indicate the federal government's knowledge that sole use of the automated data matching system to calculate a 'robobebt' was unlawful. 

However they do not indicate exactly when the federal government became aware of this fact and Minister for Government Service & Liberal MP for Fadden Stuart Robert is refusing to disclose the exact date - in large measure because at least 9,600 people have now registered to take part in a class action being undertaken by Gordon Legal.

This class action asks the Federal Court of Australia not just to rule on the legality of 'robodebt', but also to determine whether the so-called collection fees levied by Centrelink should be refunded, whether those who have repaid all or part of those amounts should be paid interest and, whether the persons affected are entitled to compensation for any distress or inconvenience caused.

Gordon Legal has said it is pursuing the class action despite the government’s backdown, given that Centrelink has not promised to return the money taken from its clients nor promised to provide compensation for inconvenience and distress.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Australian Council of Social Service calls on Morrison to increase "seriously inadequate" emergency payments to bushfire victims


The Guardian, 13 January 2020:

Australia’s peak welfare body is calling on the federal government to immediately boost emergency payments for those affected by bushfires, saying it is concerned the current amount is “seriously inadequate”.
The Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, has written to the prime minister, Scott Morrison, with a range of recommendations the organisation says are urgently needed to help provide relief to those affected by the bushfire crisis that has destroyed more than 2,000 homes.
“It is vital that the federal government continues to play its role providing adequate support to the thousands of people so badly affected,” Goldie said.
“Acoss is very concerned that the current Disaster Recovery Payment is seriously inadequate, particularly for people on lower incomes and with fewer assets, family and friends to secure transport, alternative housing options and immediate recovery resources.”
The group is calling for the payment, which has not increased since 2006, to be boosted from $1,000 to $3,000, and from $400 per child to $1,000 per child. 

Other recommendations include increasing the Disaster Recovery Allowance, which is paid at the same rate as Newstart, which the organisation said was inadequate to cover basic living costs, and providing additional relief for people on low incomes who could not afford insurance.....

Less in response to this ACOSS call and more as pushback against his poor numbers in the 12 January 2020 Newspoll which showed Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese as the preferred prime minister with a lead of 4 points, Prime Minister Morrison has announced an increase in the Disaster Recovery Payment for children to a total of $800 per child from 20 January 2020.

Families who have already received payments for children will automatically be paid an additional $400 according to media reports.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Australian Government admits that it has acted unlawfully since July 2016 with regard to the treatment of debt under its Centrelink income compliance program


On 27 November 2019 the Federal Court of Australia ruled in Amato v The Commonwealth of Australia that the use of data matching between Centrelink and Australia Taxation Office (ATO) records was not capable of providing proof that a debt exists under the Dept of Human Services/Centrelink Income Compliance Program ('robodebt') if that data matching was the only method used to establish such a debt. Therefore the debt was invalid.

The court also ruled that it followed that the garnishee notice given to the ATO was invalid and that the necessary preconditions conditions for imposition of a 10 per cent debt recovery fee were not met.  

The Federal Court made these orders, agreed to by both parties, after the Australian Government conceded that the averaging process using ATO income data to calculate the robodebt was unlawful.

Victoria Legal Aid has posted an explainer of this robotdebt case and its implications for other people who received a debt notice from July 2016 onwards.

Faced with three court cases, including a class action, on 19 November 2019 the Morrison Government finally admitted that automated data matching was a flawed tool, after mainstream media discovered and published the details of departmental email admissions to compliance staff. 

However, the Minister for Government Services has stated that government has no intention of abandoning this data matching scheme entirely. So welfare recipients must wait on the outcome of the class action in the hope that the Morrison Government will finally end its war on the poor and vulnerable.

The question remains as to how long has the Morrison Government has known it was acting unlawfully given it has finally admitted to receiving legal advice to that effect.

Friday, 22 November 2019

ROBODEBT: it's wonderful how the threat of legal action can energize the Morrison Government


Faced with three court cases which will inevitably expose the shaky ground on which the Centrelink income compliance program - aka robodebt - was built in July 2016, the Morrison Government now makes a limited, tactical response ahead of court hearings.

ABC News, 19 November 2019:

The Federal Government is immediately halting a key part of the controversial robodebt scheme to recover debts from welfare recipients and will freeze some existing debts, in what appears to be a major backdown in the operation of the scheme.
In an urgent email circulated to all Department of Human Services compliance staff today, seen by 7.30, the general manager of the debt appeal division wrote:
"The department has made the decision to require additional proof when using income averaging to identity over payments.
"This means the department will no longer raise a debt where the only information we are relying on is our own averaging of Australia Taxation Office income data."
The averaging process has long been one of the most controversial parts of the scheme.
Legal groups have said that it causes inaccuracies in the debt amounts, and wrongly shifts the burden of proof onto alleged debtors.
The email also sets out that the department would undertake a sweeping review of all debts where averaging was used.
"Customer compliance division will methodically work through previous debts identified as part of the online compliance program and respond to their requests for clarification," it said.
The department will also be writing to affected customers.
"For customers who are affected, the department will freeze debt recovery action as CCD identifies them and looks at each debt. The department will also write to affected customers to let them know," the email said.
7.30 has contacted the Minister for Government Services and the Department of Human Services for a response.

The Australian Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert was very careful in his wording of the change in approach to 'debt' collection as was wording on the Department of Human Services website.

It appears that little is altered with regard to robotdebt unless individual welfare recipients fall into the category of a) never having engaged with DHS/Centrelink after having received an initial notice informing them of an "income discrepancy"; b) also ignored any followup letters/emails
/texts/phone calls and c) whose alleged debt did not occur in a time period for which Centrelink still retains all documents concerning cash transfers made to the individual recipient.

It is only this category of welfare recipients who has never offered verbal or written information concerning the alleged debt, therefore they are the only persons who by Mr. Robert's reckoning may have had their alleged debt solely calculated by flawed data matching with the Australian Taxation Office.

The number of people who remain in this category after DHS/Centrelink's debt recovery program has been running for more than three years is not known - it could be as little as est. 6,500 or as many as est. 600,000 individuals.

Make no mistake, the Morrison Government will not easily abandon this lucrative stitch up of the poor and vulnerable.

In the 2018-19 financial year alone the total debt from income compliance activity was valued at $885.8 million and the value since the program began now totals $1.86 billion.

BACKGROUND

The Monthly, 19 November 2019:

Asher Wolf, one of the original grassroots campaigners against the robodebt program, says the government’s move is tactical. “Don’t trust DHS to act in good faith not to ramp up robodebt again. If you back off from challenging the government – for even a minute – on mendacious data-matching schemes, they’ll slide right back into old patterns of cruelty.”
Today’s move could even endanger the government’s projected return to surplus, which relies on some $2.1 billion in prospective debt recoveries under the robodebt program over the 2019–20 to 2021–22 period. “The Coalition’s AAA credit rating is balanced off raising preposterous, erroneous, illegal debts,” says Wolf. “I have no doubt the Coalition will come after the same people they always attempt to hurt: the poor and the vulnerable.”
Gordon Legal, website, 19 November 2019:
You may be aware that the so-called Robodebt issue has been widely reported in the media and has been the subject of both a Parliamentary Inquiry and a report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government does not appear to accept that the Debt Notices, issued by Centrelink on its behalf are invalid and that it has an obligation to repay the money it has already collected under the Robodebt Scheme.
Unless the Commonwealth agrees to change its position then our current view is that people with a claim of the kind broadly described above should pursue their rights by commencing a Group or Class Action.
ABC News, 17 September 2019:

A class action will be launched against the Government over the so-called robodebt scandal, arguing the Government's automated debt system is unlawful.

Key points:

  • Lawyers will argue the Government could not rely on the robodebt algorithm to collect money
  • The action will seek both repayment of falsely claimed debts and compensation for affected people, lawyers say
  • The Opposition says the robodebt billing practices are "verging on extortion"
Opposition government services spokesman Bill Shorten announced the action, which will be brought by Gordon Legal, and comes after sustained pressure on the Government over the system.
Peter Gordon, a senior partner at the law firm, said the collection of money based solely on a computer algorithm was unlawful.
"The Commonwealth has used a single, inadequate piece of data — the robodebt algorithm — and used it to seize money and penalise hundreds of thousands of people," he said
Read the full article here.

Victoria Legal Aid, 8 September 2019:

The Federal Court has been told that Centrelink has wiped the debt at the centre of a second test case against its robo-debt scheme. The case will go to a hearing in early December.
Our client, Deanna Amato has been told her robo-debt of $2754 had been wiped, after a recalculation process found the true overpayment to be just $1.48.
‘I'm happy that I don't have a big debt looming over me anymore, but on the other hand, I'm stunned that it was recalculated so easily after I took legal action’, said Deanna. 
‘Centrelink will make you jump through hoops to prove your innocence, but it turns out they were capable of finding out if my reporting was correct and that I didn't owe them anything like what the robo-debt claimed I owed. It makes me question the system even more’, she said.
The 33-year-old local government employee says Centrelink has refunded her over $1700, after they took her full tax return earlier this year. At the time, she had never spoken to anyone from Centrelink about the supposed debt.
‘It was scary when Centrelink took my tax return out of the blue. I had no idea what my rights were, or if Centrelink even had this kind of power over my money, so I turned to legal aid for advice.
‘Now that they have wiped the debts of both Victoria Legal Aid cases, it makes me wonder how many people have paid supposed debts that were completely inaccurate.  I hate to think of more people suffering because of incorrect calculations.
People may be handing over money they don't even owe, because they're too afraid, or don't have the means, to challenge them. That's why I think the system needs to change’ said Deanna.
Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid said our legal challenges to the scheme continued – ‘We cannot accept a system that is so clearly flawed and causing overwhelming hardship to the most disadvantaged people in our community.’
‘We are contacted every day by people who are feeling overwhelmed by this system that puts the onus on them to disprove debts. It is important that a court looks at the lawfulness of the process Centrelink relies on to decide that people owe them money’. said Rowan.
Deanna says she is keen to have the court look at the decisions that led to the debt being raised. ‘It turns out, when I was receiving Centrelink assistance, I reported my income, yet they still were able to raise a debt of almost $3000 and take my tax return. The fact that Centrelink wiped my robo-debt, does not change my feelings about this court case going ahead. The robo-debt process needs to be seriously examined,’ she said.
‘If I hadn't taken this legal action, I don't think Centrelink would have ever realised the problem with my so called ‘debt’, Deanna said.
Deanna Amato’s case will go to a hearing in December with our first client Madeleine Masterton’s to be scheduled for hearing after that case is determined. [my yellow highlighting]

Friday, 1 November 2019

A record high of 200,000 Newstart recipients only had a partial capacity to work in December 2018 & by June 2019 the figure was higher still


The Guardian, 24 October 2019:

Official government statistics have underreported the number of sick and disabled Newstart recipients by as much as 40% or as many as 80,000 people.

Guardian Australia revealed earlier this year that Newstart recipients with partial capacity to work has reached a record high of 200,000 in December 2018 as people increasingly languish on the unemployment payment, now for an average of three years.

But new data for June 2019, released on Wednesday, provided different figuresshowing 284,900 on Newstart had “partial capacity to work” in December 2018.

The figure for June increased to 289,489, of a total of 686,000 people on Newstart. It means 42% of recipients now have an illness or disability that prevents them from working full-time. In September 2014, the figure was 25% using the new figures.

Notes provided in the updated quarterly statistics report confirmed the previous data only included people who had been assessed as having a “partial capacity to work” within the past two years. This is also stated in the previous reports.
But it means sick and disabled people who have been languishing on Newstart for years but had not been reassessed in the past 48 months were excluded from the statistics.

The new statistics are significant because welfare groups have long argued changes to the disability support pension would result in a large number of people languishing on Newstart because they were too sick to work.

It’s shocking that 40% of people on Newstart have an illness or disability,” said the Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie.

No one can survive on $40 a day and it’s even tougher if you’re sick or have a disability. It’s heartless and negligent.”……

The Department of Social Services’ Nathan Williamson rejected that the previous data contained “errors”, saying the department had found a “better way, a more fulsome way” to report the statistics.

People with a partial capacity to work are considered not sick or disabled enough to be granted the disability pension as a result of the tightening of disability support pension eligibility. They are assessed as being able to work more than 15 hours a week but less than 30 hours a week.

The Howard government introduced “partial capacity to work” for people on Newstart in a bid to get more people into work and reduce spending on the more generous disability support pension.


Monday, 28 October 2019

The Dept. of Human Services incorrectly sent out 10,000 "accounts payable notices" and did not inform the welfare recipients of its error


Senior government officials have confirmed 10,000 'robodebt' notices were accidentally sent to welfare recipients in April 2019 when they were meant to remain on hold for review.

Departmental bureaucrats discovered the error within two days and placed the alleged debts on hold.

However, the department did not contact those persons who had received these 10,000 "accounts payable notices".

To date only 200 welfare recipients who received these improper debt notices have contacted the Dept. of Human Services/Centrelink.

That leaves 9,800 current and/or former welfare recipients probably worrying themselves sick over a debt it is highly likely they don't actually owe. Readers can listen to the short ABC report here:

https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/radio/local_sydney/audio/201910/pam-2019-10-25-robodebt-estimates.mp3

In addition to this error, in seeking recovery of money allegedly owed by welfare recipients Centrelink deliberately sent out debt notices to 169 welfare recipients who were already dead, while it also approached representatives of “deceased customers” in 515 cases.

According to The Guardian on 25 October 2019, in a recent Senate Estimates hearing the Department of Human Services has also not ruled out targeting age pensioners and other vulnerable people as part of the controversial robodebt scheme, saying any decision to expand the scheme in order to meet budget targets would be made “further down the track”.

On 3 October 2019 the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) informed the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into Centrelink's compliance program that:

ACOSS has held deep concerns about Centrelink's compliance program, otherwise known as robo-debt—which I will refer to here mostly in that way—since its inception. Despite some improvements to the implementation of the program, two fundamental design flaws remain inherent. One is the use of the averaging of ATO-reported annual income over the period someone has received income support, which is leading to incorrect calculations of overpayments. The other is the reversal of the onus of proof, which requires people to disprove alleged debts on the basis of very limited information. Under the current system, an individual's earnings data is matched with ATO data through an automated process. Where a discrepancy is identified, an individual is invited to confirm or update their income. This may go back some years and be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people to obtain the necessary information from previous employers. Where they don't provide the relevant information, the department uses averaged ATO data as a default. The department does this in full knowledge that's it's unlikely to produce an accurate or fair outcome, which its own debt recovery guidelines indeed warn. 

At present, there is a lack of transparency about the proportion and the number of debts raised as a result of ATO averaging processes, so we urge the committee, as part of this hearing, to seek information from the department for public release to inform this inquiry and the broader public debate about the policy. The robo-debt scheme also shifts the work of verifying income onto individuals, work that used to be done by the department, as well as shifting the onus of proof. As such, individuals are required to obtain historic payslips, bank statements and other records going back up to six years. If they are unable to do so, they risk incurring a debt erroneously. We note that Centrelink's previous guidelines advised people to keep employment records for six months, in stark contrast to the six-year period over which robo-debt ranges. This is deeply unfair. 

In addition to these fundamental design flaws, we hold concerns about the role of third party private companies in the compliance system, both as frontline staff in private service centres and in private debt collection agencies. We understand that to date one in three robo-debts have been sent to debt collectors. Direct engagement with people, often on low incomes and facing a range of life stresses, about their financial situation requires sensitivity and technical expertise. It's not appropriate for these functions to be outsourced to private operators who sit outside Centrelink, while Centrelink itself remains grossly understaffed. 

There are a range of other factors that compound unfairness of the current system. The first is that the government has extraordinary powers to enforce the debt owing to it, including to ban people from travelling internationally to garnish their tax returns and to charge interest on debt load. The automatic imposition of a debt recovery fee on debts prior to June 2017 adds further insult to injury for people affected. There is higher rate of erroneous debts calculated through the flawed data-matching algorithm, many of which will not be challenged and so we have no way of knowing, in fact, how many are in error, and the higher cost of administering the program at a time when our government says it doesn't have funds available to address other urgent priorities in social security systems. 

Finally, we'd like to remind the committee of the human impacts of this policy. Around a million income discrepancy notices have been issued since 2015 and half a million alleged it. And while every person's situation is different and not everybody is in a vulnerable situation, we know these notices have caused deep distress and anxiety for many people who've received them. Despite some exemptions, we know that they have been sent to people with mental health problems, people who've experienced trauma, people recently bereaved, people who are currently living on very low payments, people who are in financial hardship and people who are homeless. We also know that the impact has been devastating for many of those people, and they are very concerned at reports that the government might seek to narrow the range of available exemptions. We urge the committee to ensure that they hear from people directly affected by this scheme in the course of these hearings, including as witnesses. 

In closing, improvements to the implementation of the scheme, which we do acknowledge have not cured the fundamental design flaws at its heart, continue to cause great harm and distress. We urge the committee, therefore, to recommend suspension of the program and its replacement by a more transparent, fair, accurate and humane system of debt recovery