Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Acoss – Appalling Jail Threats to Welfare Recipients

The police and Centrelink took part in a mass mail campaign threatening welfare recipients if they provided inaccurate information

Australia’s peak community services body has described the government’s repeated threats to jail welfare recipients as appalling, while reports emerge of flaws with a new automated system designed to detect overpayments.

The government has ramped up the rhetoric on welfare debt this week, warning that its new automated compliance system would allow it to easily and quickly detect overpayments.

Human services minister Alan Tudge appeared on A Current Affair on Monday and threatened to jail those who owed Centrelink money.

“We’ll find you, we’ll track you down and you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison,” he said.

It follows a mass mail campaign by police and Centrelink this year that similarly threatened welfare recipients with jail if they provided inaccurate information.

The letters, obtained by Guardian Australia, target welfare recipients in specific geographic areas, warning that the government’s welfare fraud taskforce, taskforce integrity, was “currently working in your community” and that providing the wrong information could constitute welfare fraud, and result in a “criminal record or a prison sentence”.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, criticised the repeated threats to welfare recipients, saying the overwhelming majority of people receiving payments did the right thing.

“It is appalling that the minister for human services is telling people on the lowest incomes three weeks before Christmas that if they have a debt with Centrelink they may go to prison,” Goldie said.

“This is false, highly irresponsible and risks causing a huge amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety amongst people who are already doing it tough.

“We are not a police state and people should not be made to feel like they are doing the wrong thing by claiming a social security payment.”

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