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Ombudsman slams Centrelink debt system

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Monday, 10 April, 2017

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omThe Commonwealth Ombudsman has found “deficiencies” in the implementation of the Department of Human Services’ controversial Centrelink Online Compliance Intervention (OCI) system.

The automated data matching debt recovery system has been the subject of criticism after thousands of Centrelink payment recipients were wrongly accused of owing money.

The system was reported to have a 20% error rate, equating to around 4000 of 20,000 debt collection notices sent out weekly. Centrelink was also accused of forwarding notices to debt collection agencies before individuals had a chance to dispute the false notice.

As part of an audit into the implementation of the OCI, the Ombudsman found a series of issues related to the delivery and operation of the system.

“We found there were issues with the usability and transparency of the system. There were deficiencies in DHS’s service delivery and communication to customers and staff when implementing the system,” acting Ombudsman Richard Glenn said.

“These issues affected the quality of decisions made by the OCI. Many of these problems could have been reduced through better project planning, system testing and risk management.”

Glenn noted that there have been improvements made to the system in response to the office’s feedback since the Ombudsman commenced the investigation in January, but said more improvements must be made to ensure the system reflects good public administration.

The Ombudsman’s office has made a series of recommendations in the report, including clearer letters and other messaging to Centrelink recipients, improving service delivery and providing more assistance and support for vulnerable recipients.

In addition, the Ombudsman has recommended that the department review automated recovery fee decisions to reduce the prevalence of false positives.

Image courtesy of GotCredit under CC

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