13 August 2019 – Correction – Reporting on compliance staff

Recent media reports about our compliance review teams contain factual errors and misrepresentations that require correction. The latest coverage continues to wrongly refer to online compliance as automated debt-raising.

While data matching is facilitated by automation, the oversight, review and debt raising process is undertaken by our staff. The fact that reporting focuses on the staff who complete these reviews, demonstrates that there is human involvement throughout the process.

Supplementing the review process with additional compliance officers was done in direct response to the concerns raised by the Commonwealth Ombudsman during his initial review of the program in 2017.

The Ombudsman was satisfied we met all aspects of his suggested improvements for obtaining employment income evidence and noted the reassessment process is functioning as it should.

Our compliance review teams work closely with customers – through a dedicated phone line – to explain, check and review income reporting discrepancies.

Finalising a review does not always result in a debt.

In 20 per cent of cases, people are either able to resolve the discrepancies themselves online or work with our staff through the review process to resolve them, which means no debt is raised.

The 20 per cent is not an error rate – it is the system functioning as it should.

We strongly reject the portrayal of our management practices as encouraging staff to short cut fair and mandated quality customer experience processes. This is neither the intention nor the effect of the BOOST program. On the contrary, by facilitating a team-based approach to identifying and addressing issues that arise, programs like BOOST help improve the quality of the service we provide to customers.

Finalising reviews is a key point of discussion for these teams because we want reviews to be completed fairly and as quickly as possible, so that people have certainty about the outcome.

How the department and the teams use the information contained on the whiteboards has been entirely misrepresented. The numbers do not refer to debt targets. As we advised the relevant journalist, our staff working on income reviews are not required to finalise a prescribed number of reviews each week.

The whiteboards are a part of our management process, known as ‘BOOST’ – a common methodology used in many industries.  BOOST works by creating visual links between data and people. Team members come together each day to share learnings and resolve any issues that affect their work. This means compliance officers can seek assistance from their colleagues or raise any concerns.

The focus is on improving the overall quality of decision-making, ‘Naming and shaming’ has nothing to do with our process. Staff names are only displayed on the whiteboard where individual team members choose to have their name displayed.

BOOST is a staff led process.  Staff are included in the implementation of BOOST in every compliance site from the ground up. This includes the development of the team vision, through to the whiteboard content and daily stand ups.

The reporting also contains numerous other incorrect claims that require clarification:

  • The officers and teams being referred to are not part of our debt recovery operation. That work is handled by a separate team after the review is finalised.

  • We do not refer current welfare recipients to external collection agents.

  • We don’t garnishee the tax returns of customers currently receiving income support payments. We only take this action when other attempts to recover money owed have failed and we notify the person with a letter prior to any action occurring. 
  • We make at least three attempts to contact people via letter. An initial letter is followed by two reminders.

  • After the three letters, a compliance officer is required to check the first one was received and make at least two genuine contact attempts by phone, before they finalise the review.

  • Bank statements and payslips are not the only evidence people can provide.
  • We also accept other supporting documents, such as letters from employers, amended payment summary information from the ATO or other third party confirmations.