Centrelink could inflict more than one million new robodebts on welfare recipients over the next three years as the government seeks to meet the controversial data-matching scheme’s budget targets, departmental projections provided to a Senate inquiry suggest, The Guardian reports.
The projections are contained in a Department of Human Services submission defending the scheme, which also concedes compliance staff who carry out robodebt reviews are given “aspirational targets” by their managers.
Budget projections provided to the inquiry confirm figures in leaked confidential documents, revealed by Guardian Australia last month, showing the government would need to significantly ramp up the scheme to hit its $2.1bn fiscal savings target.
The Senate submission says the department has now conducted 955,000 income reviews, of which 81% led to a debt being raised, but that it would need to carry out 1.6 million over the next three years to meet its budget projections.
The department has projected it will conduct 500,000 in 2019-20, increasing to 550,000 in the following two financial years. It has averaged about 230,000 – or 4,500 a week – since 2015.
On current trends, the 1.6 million projected income reviews would result in about 1.3 million robodebts being issued to past and current welfare recipients.
This comes as the scheme faces fresh scrutiny following the announcement of a potential class action and as Centrelink increasingly uses new approaches, such as the use of tax garnishee notices, to claw back alleged debts.
In its submission to the inquiry, the peak welfare body, the Australian Council of Social Service , said the scheme must be abolished.
“People have reported their life being ruined as a result of robodebt,” it said in its submission.