22 June 2017


The Design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative report by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs offers the following recommendations
Recommendation 1
6.9 The committee recommends the Online Compliance Intervention (OCI) program should be put on hold until all procedural fairness flaws are addressed, and the other recommendations of this report are implemented. If these issues are addressed, the OCI should only be continued in its new form after the new One Touch Payroll system is implemented in 2018.
Recommendation 2
6.10 The committee strongly recommends that the rollout of a redesigned system must include a robust risk assessment process, which includes consultation with relevant expert stakeholders.
Recommendation 3
6.11 The committee recommends that all people who have had a debt amount determined through the use of income averaging should have their debt amounts re-assessed immediately by a team of departmental officers with specialist knowledge of the Online Compliance Intervention program, using accurate income data sourced from employers. This re-assessment must include the full range of unpaid, partially paid and fully paid debts incurred by current income payment recipients and those debts outsourced to debt collection agencies.
Recommendation 4
6.14 The committee recommends all data-matching guidelines and protocols be adhered to, including the Data-matching Program (Assistance and Tax) Act 1990, regardless of whether the department is using tax file numbers. This will require the department to halt the Online Compliance Intervention process while steps are taken to ensure compliance with all mandatory and voluntary provisions. Adherence to these provisions should be verifiable by the public in order to maintain trust in the social security system.
Recommendation 5
6.15 The committee recommends the department update its privacy policy to ensure that it does not publicly release sensitive information it holds about individuals, for any reason.
Recommendation 6
6.16 The committee recommends the department resume full responsibility for calculating verifiable debts (including manual checking) relating to income support overpayments, which are based on actual fortnightly earnings and not an assumed average.
Recommendation 7
6.18 The committee recommends the department review all debt cases where the 10 per cent recovery fee was automatically imposed, and in line with procedural fairness, allow each person a fully-informed opportunity to apply to have the debt recovery fee waived.
Recommendation 8
6.19 The committee recommends personal or technical barriers to communication which impacted an individual's ability to undertake income reporting, should be included in the reasonable excuse framework for waiving the debt recovery fee.
Recommendation 9
6.21 The committee recommends Accessible Information, in particular Easy English versions, be made available in all debt recovery programs, including online portals. The committee strongly recommends this should be a whole-of-department change, to ensure that producing Accessible Information versions of all Centrelink communications material become standard operating procedure.
Recommendation 10
6.22 The committee recommends the department ensure that in the re-design of the Online Compliance Intervention system, if it continues, the new system has the necessary protocols to protect vulnerable cohorts, including people experiencing mental health issues. The committee strongly recommends this should be a whole-of-department change, including reconvening the Consumer Consultative Group, the Service Delivery Advisory Group and the Mental Health Advisory Working Party.
Recommendation 11
6.23 The committee recommends that the department provide all Online Compliance Intervention participants with the debt calculation data required to be assured any debts are correct.
Recommendation 12
6.24 The committee recommends the Department of Human Services be adequately resourced to implement all recommendations of this report, and to improve the level of service provided to Centrelink recipients. In particular, the committee recommends increased investment in communication channels and staff, to ensure calls are answered in a more timely manner. The committee strongly recommends this as a whole-of-department change.
Recommendation 13
6.29 The committee recommends that clear and comprehensive advice on the internal and external reassessment, review rights and processes are made available to all Online Compliance Intervention-impacted individuals.
Recommendation 14
6.30 The committee recommends that clear and comprehensive advice on the ability to seek an extension of time to provide income documentation is made available to all Online Compliance Intervention-impacted individuals.
Recommendation 15
6.31 The committee recommends that community legal service funding be reviewed in the next budget, to ensure community legal services are able to meet the community need for legal advice relating to Online Compliance Intervention matters.
Recommendation 16
6.32 The committee recommends the operating budgets for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal be reviewed to plan for an increased workload on Online Compliance Intervention-related matters, to ensure these cases are progressed within appropriate timeframes.
Recommendation 17
6.33 The committee strongly recommends that an outstanding debt should not exclude a person from advance payments needed for essential goods and services.
Recommendation 18
6.36 The committee recommends the department voluntarily undertake to be bound by all debt collection and consumer law legislation and guidelines, and ensure regular external scrutiny to ensure compliance. This should explicitly include the actions of external contractors working on behalf of the department.
Recommendation 19
6.37 The committee recommends the department ensures an independent review of internal and external debt collection practices is undertaken, to ensure all procedures are adhering to industry standards, such as the suspension of debt collection where debt liability is disputed, and the provision of accurate and relevant information to debtors.
Recommendation 20
6.38 The committee recommends the department consider adoption of the principles of the Victorian Judgement Debt Recovery Act which precludes debt collection to be made from Centrelink payments that are recognised minimum payments required for food, shelter and other life essentials.
Recommendation 21
6.39 The committee further recommends the department develop guidelines on appropriate levels of debt repayment to income ratios, to ensure that debt repayment amounts do not impact any individual's ability to purchase life essentials.