Aged Pension recipients are in the firing line again, this time from Centrelink's data matching scheme.
Aged Pension recipients are in the firing line again, this time from Centrelink's data matching scheme.

Centrelink claims it's not demanding pension debts... yet

ADDED to the January 1 introduction of tough changes to the asset test, Centrelink has fired a salvo over the heads of aged pensioners as it takes it data matching scheme further into the Australian community.

Seniors are receiving letters about the data matching scheme, with just over 2.5 million Aged Pensions recipients targeted.

However, the Department of Human Services claims these letters are not in fact debt letters, in most cases, but are more likely to be seeking clarification of a person's information.

Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said the process of data matching with the Australian Taxation Office was not new and it was normal for the department to check income support payments.

"These measures only pick up those cases where the information declared to the ATO is different to that declared to Centrelink," Mr Jongen said. 

"The department is obliged to seek clarification of the difference in the data and, in the first instance, people are simply asked to either update or confirm their details - this is not a debt letter.

"If someone receives benefits to which they are not entitled, the department is required by law to recover the money," he added.

The department confirmed the compliance measure extends to the Age Pension and applies to income support payments where earned income may affect payment eligibility and rates.

"To further protect the integrity of the welfare system, the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) in December included measures intended to extend the current compliance activity for non-employment income, assets and investments, for example, income from financial investments, business and real estate that has been declared to the ATO," Mr Jongen said.

Under the MYEFO measures, this fraud prevention and debt recovery scheme is expected to net the Federal Government an estimated decrease in the Aged Pension expenses of about $1.1 billion over the next four years.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS:

The Department of Human Services is recommending the following actions:

  • Either update or confirm your details by going online or use the phone number listed on the letter.
  • Don't use your regular payment line for enquiries about the online compliance intervention; instead call 1800 086 400.
  • The easiest way to confirm or update your information is online through your myGov account. You can view your information, including checking the dates over which their income was earned, and, if necessary, update any information.
  • For assistance with myGov, ask the staff at the self-service terminals at your nearest Centrelink office.
  • You have 21 days from the date of the letter to confirm or update your information.
  • People who have not responded will receive a reminder 14 days later.
  • On request, an extension to the 21-day time frame is possible and automatically granted on the first two occasions.
  • When a person completes an online intervention, the system will advise of the outcome and if a debt is raised, explain how the debt was calculated.
  • If a person fails to respond to the request to confirm or update the information, a debt will be raised using data from the ATO, as provided to them by the employer.
  • Even after a debt has been raised, the person can change their details or provide more information to have the debt reassessed, or may request to have a formal review if required.
  • People have further appeal rights should they disagree with the outcome of the formal review. There is no time limit to request a review of the decision with regards to debts raised by the department.
  • When a debt is raised a person will receive an account payable letter advising of the debt, and will be provided 28 days to pay the debt in full or contact the department to discuss payment options.
  • Current recipients who have incurred a debt that has not been paid in full by the 28th day are subject to automatic withholding arrangements, which can be negotiated depending on their circumstances.
  • If they are not a current customer and contact has not been made after 42 days, further recovery action may apply such as referral to an external collection agent.

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