On 31 July 2019, the Senate referred an inquiry into Centrelink's compliance program to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by 4 December 2019. On 18 September 2019, the Senate granted an extension of time for reporting until 25 March 2020. On 13 February 2020, the Senate granted an extension of time for reporting until 19 August 2020. The reporting date has been further extended to 2 December 2020.
Further detail about the scope of the inquiry is provided in the terms of reference.
Inquiry update – April 2020
There have been a number of significant developments since this inquiry started which the Committee considers need further consideration, including:
on 19 November 2019, Services Australia announced that it would no longer raise compliance debts based on averaged income data, and that it would suspend its debt recovery process while it reviewed debts based on averaged income data;
in November 2019 the Government agreed to orders by the Federal Court of Australia in Amato v the Commonwealth that the averaging process using ATO income data to calculate debts was unlawful;
a class action is currently underway relating to raising debts based on averaged income data;
public interest immunity claims have been made by the Government; and
debt recovery processes have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee intends to consider further evidence about the legality of the online compliance program, as well as the impact and implementation of recent changes to the program, in a second phase of the inquiry.
The committee intends to table an interim report in August 2020 to address evidence received to date about the operation and impact of the online compliance program.
Call for further submissions
Submissions were originally invited by 20 September 2019.
The committee is now inviting new submissions, including supplementary submissions from organisations and individuals who have already provided evidence to the inquiry, and requests that these are provided by 17 September 2020.
These new and supplementary submissions should address the existing terms of reference, however the committee is particularly interested in the following matters:
the legal basis of the online compliance program;
Services Australia's progress in implementing the changes announced in November 2019; and
the impact that these changes have had on individuals, the community sector and Centrelink staff.
Making a submission
If you would like to make a submission, you may find it helpful to look at the guide for preparing a submission. It includes suggestions on what to include in a submission, a check list, and information about what happens to your submission once it has been received by the committee.
Submissions may be published on the internet
The committee can decide to receive submissions as public documents—which are published on the committee webpage. If your submission is published, the information in it, including your name, can be searched for on the internet.
You can ask for your submission to be confidential
The committee can also decide to receive submissions on a confidential basis or with your name and personal details withheld. If you do not want your submission to be publicly available, you can ask the committee to keep your submission confidential – please include the word confidential on the front of your submission as well as a reason for requesting confidentiality.
Getting help after receiving a compliance letter from Centrelink
While the committee welcomes submissions from individuals about their experience of Centrelink debt collection practices, the committee does not have the ability to advise on, advocate for, or take action relating to individual cases.
If you are unsure about any information you have been given about a potential debt from Centrelink, or if you are having trouble doing what Centrelink asks, there is a Compliance Helpline 1800 086 400 you can call for help.
If you need legal advice, you can contact your local legal aid provider (www.nationallegalaid.org) or welfare rights organisation (www.nssrn.org.au).
If you need advice on a debt to Centrelink, you can contact the National Debt Helpline (http://www.ndh.org.au/Debt-problems/Centrelink-debt or 1800 007 007) to talk with a financial counsellor for free.
If you want to talk with someone about the impact of the Centrelink compliance program on your mental health and wellbeing, you can contact one of the services below: