Centrelink’s online compliance scheme
17 June 2020
The Australian Government has recently announced that 470,000 debts, issued through computer-generated debt notices under Centrelink’s online compliance scheme, will be waived or refunded. The scheme involved an averaging process which matched data from the Australian Tax Office with income reported to Centrelink by welfare recipients. The government stated that it had received legal advice that raising a debt wholly or partly on the basis of ATO-averaged income was insufficient under law.
The Law Council provided a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs on 31 October 2019 regarding Centrelink’s online compliance scheme. While acknowledging that certain improvements had been made, it set out ongoing significant concerns about the central features of the scheme.
These included whether the use of averaged data by the scheme risked failing to meet specific requirements of the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth), the legality of placing of an effective onus of proof on the beneficiary to disprove a claimed debt, and a range of features contributing to an ongoing lack of procedural fairness.
The Law Council remains grateful to the Law Institute of Victoria, the Law Society of New South Wales, the Law Society of South Australia, and the Queensland Law Society, as well as the Administrative Law Committee and AAT Liaison Committee of the Federal Litigation and Dispute Resolution Section, and its National Human Rights Committee for their assistance with the preparation of this submission.