Friends, family dob in Centrelink welfare cheats

 

More than 100,000 Australians have dobbed in family, friends and foes to Centrelink for ripping off the welfare system in the past three years.

New data revealed Centrelink's tip-off line was inundated with almost 600 calls each week in the past year.

In total, 31,093 calls were made in 2018-19 - slightly less than 2017-18 when 33,123 people snitched on friends and relatives for fraudulently claiming welfare, child support and Medicare payments.

In total $1.85 billion in debts were collected by the Department of Human Services in 2018-19.

Private debt collectors working on commission helped the government claw back more than $140 million in welfare debts.

More than 100,000 Australians have dobbed in family and friends who are cheating Centrelink. Picture: AAP/Tracey Nearmy
More than 100,000 Australians have dobbed in family and friends who are cheating Centrelink. Picture: AAP/Tracey Nearmy

New figures show the federal government hired three external collection agencies in the 2018-19 fiscal year to chase welfare debts racked up through false claims.

The new data shows the debt collectors clawed back an extra $22 million in 2018-19 compared to the year before.

In the past two years there have been more than 80 complaints about debt collectors who have been accused of intimidation and harassment by some welfare recipients. Only 17 complaints were upheld and investigated by the department.

Services Minister Stuart Robert said public tip-offs were an important part of the government's suite of welfare integrity measures.

"While the vast majority of people are honest and do the right thing there are some who abuse department services and get money for which they're not eligible," Mr Robert said.

"Australians expect their government to maintain the integrity of our highly targeted welfare system. Meeting fraud head-on is vitally important."

Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said they need to meet fraud “head-on”. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said they need to meet fraud “head-on”. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

In total, private debt collectors have recovered more than 220,000 debts in the past four years including 48,421 in 2018-19.

More than 9300 social welfare debts were recovered in the first two months of this financial year putting the government on track for a bumper debt recovery year.

But taxpayers are footing the bill for lucrative commissions paid to the three debt recovery agencies - Milton Graham, Probe Group and ARL Collect - as incentives to chase welfare cheats.

The department refused to reveal how much had been paid to the private companies.