5th Jan 2016
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said this week about $300 million had been recovered, part of a target of $4 billion in recovered payments for household, unemployment and student support.
The agency’s official Twitter account has been communicating with users concerned about receiving debt notices during the Christmas period and has referred some to Lifeline, the 24-hour crisis support and suicide-prevention service.
Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said on Thursday the process was not linked to the department’s new debt compliance activities.
“It is a long-established process that we provide information about the department’s social work services to customers who are at-risk, or who threaten suicide or self-harm.
“We take all mentions of this nature seriously,” he said.
“At times, particularly when outside the department’s business hours, details for Lifeline are offered as they are available to help people when we aren’t open.
“This process was established with advice from social work experts and is reviewed yearly. We treat the welfare of our customers with paramount importance.”
Centrelink’s phone services have not been experiencing higher-than-usual demand, despite more than 170,000 welfare recipients receiving letters about possible eligibility problems or overpayments.
The agency’s average wait times are about 16 minutes and clients can also access services via the government’s MyGov website.
Mr Jongen said social workers and departmental staff behind Centrelink’s social media accounts provide support and intervention to customers at risk of suicide or suffering from mental distress.
“This includes ensuring the person is safe and making referrals for further assistance.
“We want to ensure people have access to vital services whenever they need it, and we stand by our commitment to make referrals to these external support services – especially out of usual business hours.”
On Wednesday, independent MP Andrew Wilkie said he’d had four people approach his office who he believed were suicidal or at risk of self-harm because of the letters.
Labor and politicians including former Greens leader Christian Milne and South Australian Xenophon Team MP Rebecca Sharkie have slammed the government’s response to the problems.
The opposition has called for the automated systems to be halted or scrapped until the relevant algorithm can be fixed and the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office is seeking information from Centrelink after being asked to investigate by Mr Wilkie.
Mr Porter said this week the complaint rate from the debt recovery letters was low, with only 276 complaints resulting from some 169,000 letters.
Contact Lifeline if you require assistance: 13 11 14.
If you would like to see what the Australian Government doesn’t bother to get control of…
Eighty-eight million, seven hundred & seventeen thousand, six hundred & fifty‑two dollars and five cents per day…on “defence”
The Australian Government will provide an estimated $365.7 million in total ODA to Indonesia in 2016-17, including an estimated $296 million in bilateral funding managed by DFAT.