Media Release by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Centrelink customers have a responsibility to tell of changed circumstances

Centrelink customers who are receiving taxpayer assistance have a responsibility and are required to tell Centrelink if their financial circumstances change.

The Pensioner overpayments that have been identified have arisen because customers have not met their obligations to advise Centrelink of changed circumstances.

Successive governments have undertaken checks and data matching to detect customers who are not meeting their obligations.

These checks do not replace a customer’s responsibility to tell Centrelink about changes to their circumstances.

Labor’s family and community services spokesman, Wayne Swan, incorrectly claims that overpayments to people are the result of Centrelink’s failure to check the accuracy of payments.

As usual, Mr Swan is scaremongering and failing to offer any alternative approaches. When asked whether he would change the system or waive overpayments to people who incorrectly claim benefits to which they are not entitled he said “no”.

Mr Swan is wrong to claim that people owing money to Centrelink have been threatened or will have their house taken away. Each customer’s individual circumstances are taken into account by Centrelink and repayment arrangements negotiated that enable the recovery of the money without causing financial hardship.

Mr Swan is wrong to claim that Centrelink customers have been referred to mercantile agents to recover overpayments. A customer who is receiving a payment from Centrelink is not referred to a mercantile agent.

Less than 10% of overpayments raised are referred to a mercantile agent.

Unlike Labor, the Howard Government is managing social the social security system responsibly and is saving taxpayers $44 million a week from enhanced compliance measures.

It is important that people tell Centrelink in a timely way if their income or assets or their spouse’s changes their eligibility for benefits.

Our welfare system delivers assistance to those who are eligible based on their need. To maintain its fairness it is vital that we all ensure that people in similar circumstances are treated the same.