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Fears for Centrelink welfare fraud teams as ABS is brought in to run audit

The nation's last line of defence against welfare fraudsters is under threat from public service cost-cutting.

Centrelink's ''Random Sample Survey'' system, which conducts spot checks on thousands of welfare claimants each year, has already begun shutting down units and the remaining teams are undergoing a ''value for money'' audit to determine if they will survive.

The random sample teams throughout the country have uncovered tens of millions of dollars in fraud and overpayment in the past several years, but face an uncertain future. The Bureau of Statistics has been called upon by the cash-strapped Department of Human Services to run the rule over the teams and their activities.

Outstanding debts for social welfare and income support payments surged past $1.5 billion in the last reporting period and departmental insiders are aghast that any movement to weaken enforcement is being considered.

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Random Review Teams are stationed in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Western Australia and look at all aspects of a claimant's finances to determine if they are entitled to the welfare benefits they are claiming.

The ''whole of payment reviews'' look to uncover hidden bank accounts, investments or properties as well as undeclared superannuation payments, income from overseas and even live-in spouses who have not been reported to welfare authorities.

Debts of $30,000 raised by review teams are commonplace and overpayments of up to $60,000 are also regularly discovered.

The Townsville random review team closed down in October because it was deemed not cost-effective. Its work was moved to units in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which have to cover a massive geographical area including Cairns, Townsville, the Rockhampton region and the Northern Territory.

Now DHS public servants fear the entire review systems may be under threat after it was disclosed internally in January that the Bureau of Statistics was being brought in to review the teams' work.

A DHS spokeswoman said there were no plans in place to close more review units and it was their ''methodology'' that was being reviewed.

''The ABS is assisting the department to review the random sample survey methodology, [for example] sampling, surveying methods, to ensure it is up-to-date and provides value for money,'' she said.

''The department sought the assistance of the ABS because it has expertise in the conduct of surveys and production of statistics.

''The Townsville random sample surveys team reduced in size through natural attrition and in July 2013 the department determined that it was no longer cost-effective to maintain the team.

''All staff were redeployed to other teams in Townsville.''

The bulk of the $1.5 billion in outstanding debt, as at June 2013, related to the family tax benefit, with $1.1 billion in repayments owing. The age pension accounted for $126 million. More than $208 million was owed for payments of the disability support pension and $47 million in carer payments is due to be paid back.

22 comments

  • Now this is one I don't get. These guys are SAVING the government money. Why are they being affected? If we need to save money what better way than to catch those rorting the welfare system?

    Commenter
    Bronwyn
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 8:17AM
    • Correct.

      Commenter
      NITRO GANGSTER
      Date and time
      March 04, 2014, 9:05AM
  • This is a clear example of poor management and prioritisation of issues. Get rid of the over paid central office managers and provide the resources needed to the frontline staff so that they can do their job. Centrelink is supposed to be a frontline service organisation, yet that is where the cuts are. Just does not make sense.
    It is easy to be critical of frontline staff, but they have a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances and this is how little they are valued by their own organisation. Disgraceful.

    Commenter
    Irene
    Date and time
    March 04, 2014, 8:40AM
    • Bronwyn - this Government is doing away with the random review teams because it will implement a welfare system which is just and will go to those who rightly need it in the first place - not doled out willy nilly with few questions asked because of politically correct procedures. The best option is dob-in-a welfare cheat. It costs nothing. Perhaps an even more efficient way is to introduce bounties and spotters fees. That will save money.

      Commenter
      Mymoney
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      March 04, 2014, 8:51AM
      • Dob-ins need to be investigated too, it's not as simple as taking a phone call alleging some type of fraud and then cutting the payment. Proof needs to be found to substantiate the claim.

        Commenter
        Woody
        Date and time
        March 04, 2014, 3:47PM
    • The biggest frauds in all of this are Centrelink public servants themselves. Most are no more than overpaid middle aged, middle class bureaucrats who have no idea what it is to be unemployed or have low income and, in private, many are derogatory about those people they are there to serve. Most of Centrelink’s alleged triumphs in combating fraud are easy targets – the hapless grandmother of someone with little or no English skills who usually commit fraud by mistake rather than by design. Centrelink then wastes large sums of taxpayer’s money promoting these great triumphs externally, through the media, and within the organisation itself as a major back patting exercise. Now there’s a fraud if ever I saw one

      Commenter
      decmacinoz
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      March 04, 2014, 8:52AM
      • Here have a Government having o go at unemployed, DSP, cares and pensioners by slashing payments, by moving the disabled to Newstart, and yet in their suppository of wisdom close down a department that weasels out welfare fraudsters, the same people they use as a political tool to cut welfare expenditure, does this look like a well thought out idea, going Freddy could see how ridiculous this is, and going by the figures on whats owed, it seems that the middle and upper class are ripping welfare off more, go figure, but hit the poor and low income earners seem to be what this government is all about.

        Commenter
        lost2
        Date and time
        March 04, 2014, 8:58AM
        • OMIGOD! What if some dastardly dole bludger is claiming custom-built bookshelves as an expense! Or using wedding invitations as an excuse not to attend interviews! We'll all be rooned!

          Commenter
          Max Gross
          Location
          Sapphire Coast
          Date and time
          March 04, 2014, 9:01AM
          • Maybe they're trying to determine the welfare savings each 'random sample' team has achieved? That would be fair (not)! Perhaps it's time to adopt a more targeted approach, supplementing the random sample approach?

            Commenter
            bygolly
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            March 04, 2014, 9:10AM
            • This government should be unemployed.

              Commenter
              ray pace
              Location
              narrabeen
              Date and time
              March 04, 2014, 9:17AM

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