On 8 February 2017, the Senate referred the following matter to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report:
The design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative.
The terms of reference are:
- the impact of Government automated debt collection processes upon the aged, families with young children, students, people with disability and jobseekers and any others affected by the process;
- the administration and management of customers’ records by Centrelink, including provision of information by Centrelink to customers receiving multiple payments;
- the capacity of the Department of Human Services and Centrelink services, including online, IT, telephone services and service centres to cope with levels of demand related to the implementation of the program;
- the adequacy of Centrelink complaint and review processes, including advice or direction given to Centrelink staff regarding the management of customer queries or complaints;
- data-matching between Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office and the selection of data, including reliance upon Pay As You Go income tax data;
- the process of awarding any contracts related to the debt collection system;
- the error rates in issuing of debt notices, when these started being identified and steps taken to remedy errors;
- the Government’s response to concerns raised by affected individuals, Centrelink and departmental staff, community groups and parliamentarians;
- Centrelink’s Online Compliance Intervention (OCI) and its compliance with debt collection guidelines and Australian privacy and consumer laws;
- the adequacy of departmental management of the OCI, including:
- the adequacy of staff numbers to manage the workload associated with the OCI, including customer complaints,
- what impact the roll-out of the OCI has had on other areas of work and whether resources have been diverted from other areas,
- training and development provided to staff who are working on this program or in related areas (for example, telephony and complaints),
- how the Department of Human Services and Centrelink are tracking the impact of the OCI rollout on staff, including stress and incidents of customer aggression,
- any advice and related information available to the Department of Human Services in relation to potential risks associated with the OCI and what action was taken as a result, including feedback arising from system testing and staff, and
- decisions taken in relation to IT systems and service design that may have contributed to problems experienced by Centrelink clients; and
- any other related matters.
Making a submission
Please read the terms of reference before making your submission. You may contact the secretariat to discuss privacy issues prior to making a submission which includes a personal account.
The committee has resolved that it will not publish submissions in the form of short, general statements, that do not specifically address the terms of reference. The issues raised in short statements will be noted by the committee.
The committee has also resolved that it will not publish form or campaign letters, or petitions, received to the inquiry. A sample letter will be published together with the number of such letters received.
A guide to making a submission to a Senate inquiry is available.
Submissions were sought by 22 March 2017. The committee then agreed to re-open the submissions period. Submissions were then sought by 19 April 2017. If you have concerns about lodging a subsmission by this date please contact the secretariat. The reporting date is 10 May 2017. On 23 March 2017, the Senate granted an extension of time for reporting until 21 June 2017.
Opportunities to speak to the committee
The committee will hold public hearings in locations around Australia over the coming weeks and proposes to offer opportunities for individuals to speak to the committee at those hearings. If you, or someone you know, would like to speak to the committee, please email the committee secretariat as soon as possible to register your interest. Further information is available in the committee’s media release.