28 January 2020
In response to reports today of the government’s plan to have Centrelink use payroll data to pre-fill earnings, as in online tax returns, ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:
“As Centrelink reporting periods often do not match workplace pay cycles, people are left having to estimate or predict their earnings.
“We welcome measures to improve accuracy of reporting income to reduce instances of people having to payback overpayments.
“However, it’s important that that the system is accurate, and that people can easily make corrections where pre-filled data is incorrect. Also, Centrelink must be properly staffed to help people correct their records.
“It’s also important that the changes take into account the challenges people on low incomes can face in accessing online systems.
“Robodebt shows how disastrous relying on automation can be, which is why there must be proper checks and balances in place.
“We will closely check the legislation to ensure automated income averaging will not be used.
“Automated income averaging has been one of the worst aspects of Robodebt, the system the Government unleashed to claw back alleged overpayments. Up to 60% of robodebts used averaging, which was found to be unlawful by the Federal Court last year.
“We still don’t know how much the government owes people who have paid false robodebts over the past three years.
“Whatever savings the government expects to make with automating reporting of income, it must factor in money owed to potentially thousands of people who were wrongly charged with robodebts since 2016.
“There are a whole host of ways that the government can save the budget billions a year to properly fund our income support system and other services, such as ending tax avoidance practices, including sheltering tax in private trusts, reporting income through private companies and international business tax avoidance.”