Correcting misleading story about department’s debt recovery process

Yesterday evening, news.com.au once more ran a misleading story about the department’s debt recovery processes, attempting to again wrongly link it to the online compliance system. Had the department been afforded an opportunity to investigate the cases featured in the story prior to publishing, we would have quickly corrected this erroneous assumption.

To make it quite clear, these cases relate to family payments, which are not part of the online compliance system.

Furthermore, there is no basis for the erroneous claim that there is 90 per cent error rate. It’s absolutely wrong and as we’ve previously stated it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the system.

In regards to the cases featured in the story, the department is urgently seeking through news.com.au consent from the families for us to make contact with them directly to investigate their circumstances and promptly address any concerns.

External collection agents

It is important to note external collection agents are not used in the recovery of debts from current welfare recipients. In relation to former recipient debts, less than 10 per cent of recoveries are made by these agencies. The department always attempts to contact former recipients before the matter is referred to an external collection agent.

Contracted agents are required to act in full compliance with the department’s debt collection requirements and legal obligations. This includes ensuring agents follow due process developed in consultation with the department when contacting former welfare recipients by mail, phone or SMS.

Agents are able to contact people who have a debt multiple times in a week, only when it is necessary to do so.

External collection agents do not visit peoples’ homes or seize assets. The department is able to garnishee wages and bank accounts held by former welfare recipients who refuse to repay a debt. Agents may make people aware of these consequences, but cannot take any action in relation to them.

Payment arrangements can be negotiated directly with the department depending on a person’s financial circumstances. Importantly, people can request a review of their debt at any time and also have the option to pause recovery of the debt while the review is finalised.

If a person is not satisfied with the service they have received from an external collection agent, they can call us on 1800 076 072, where the current wait time is less than 3 minutes.