The federal government has sent more than 11,000 people Centrelink promissory notes worth a total of $ 32 million, claiming they were overpaid because of the employee, while resisting calls to withdraw money from companies that received wage subsidy and then earned money.
Services Australia has told the Senate that 11,771 people have had a debt raised “after completing a review of their income support payments and the employer income paid to them by their employer”.
“As of April 30, 2021, approximately $ 32.8 million in debt has been raised through completed reviews,” the agency said in response to questions from Green Senator Rachel Siewert.
Debts that have been withdrawn have only been issued to the welfare recipient, not yet withdrawn.
Siewert said the data revealed a double standard between people receiving income support and companies claiming wage subsidies.
“It’s farcical that the government is chasing individuals for so-called debts for what will be real mistakes in a confusing system once they have given millions to billionaires,” Siewert said.
People on welfare benefits must report their income from other sources to Centrelink with the information used to calculate how much money they are entitled to receive.
Under its compliance scheme, Services Australia staff will check the income that the person has reported in relation to tax records and other evidence.
It was a now interrupted version of this process that led to the robodebt scandal.
Services Australia officials told Senate estimates earlier in the year that welfare recipients had an obligation to report job worker as “ordinary income”.
“It can affect whether they were eligible for a jobseeker’s or other income support payment, or what the correct rate would be,” said compliance director Chris Birrer.
However, Jeremy Poxon, a spokesman for the Australian Unemployed Workers Union, said the system was confusing.
“Judging by the amount of panic calls we got about it, we know – and the department – that job manager was a confusing mess in a system to access,” he said.
Poxon said it was “disgusting, but sadly not surprising” that “billionaires like Gerry Harvey have been completely unleashed,” while welfare recipients who “had participated in this program in good faith” were targeted by the government.
In a case the Guardian Australia is aware of, a person who received a welfare debt over their employee income was later sent correspondence saying they could be forced to pay interest if they delayed payment.
This was despite the fact that the person asked for the debt to be put on hold while they sought information on how it was calculated.
Although it has created debt against welfare recipients, it says it was overpaid because of their employer income, but the government has firmly refused to recall job talks from companies that had profits.
Companies had to either demonstrate an actual or expected decline in revenue to qualify for the payment, but many did not experience these expected losses.
Billionaire Harvey Norman chairman Gerry Harvey is among those who have been criticized for refusing to pay the money back after raising $ 22 million and then seeing the company’s profits more than double.
The Guardian Australia reported in July that Wesley College, a prestigious private school in Melbourne, offered parents a 20% fee rebate last year after pocketing nearly $ 20 million. In job talks.
Guardian Australia has also reported fears that millions of dollars in job keeper grants have also been used to pay large dividends to the company’s shareholders.
A small number of ASX300 companies are among those that have promised to pay back job talks, however
A Morrison government spokesman said there was “no double standards” because “both programs have strong compliance frameworks”.
“Services Australia is taking every step to remind people of their reporting obligations,” the spokesman said.
“Under jobkeeper, where companies reported incorrectly in relation to the criteria for qualification, ATO has the power to recover overpayments. As of July, $ 284 million in overpayments has been identified and approximately $ 138 million has been recovered. ”
The spokesman said it was a long-standing responsibility for individuals receiving jobseekers or related payments to report their earnings accurately.
“This process ensures that our social security system is sustainable in the future because it means that taxpayers only pay the beneficiaries what they are entitled to – neither more nor less,” they said.
Hank Jongen, Services Australia’s spokesman, said the majority of the people who received the debt were on job-seeking payment.
He said the agency provides “tailored support to this group, including letters and outgoing calls to make sure they were aware of this debt”.
The boy said the agency “may charge interest or refer [debts] to external debt collection agencies as a last resort ”if debtors did not respond.
On Monday, the government opposed a move by independent Senator Rex Patrick, who would demand that the tax commissioner state which large companies received jobs and how much they had raked in. A similar database exists in New Zealand.
Labor, which has repeatedly urged profitable companies to pay job managers back, initially supported the move, but later withdrew its support for Patrick’s change.
It said the pursuit of the issue may have delayed the payment of Covid-19 disasters to recipients. The original bill Patrick had changed sought to make this disaster payment tax-free.