Budget 2018: Government to extend DHS data matching

The Department of Human Services will extend its data-matching activities with the ATO, with the Centrelink technology upgrade receiving AU$316 million under the Budget.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government has revealed that it will extend its income data-matching process, with tranche three of the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program receiving AU$316.2 million under the 2018-19 Budget.

"Income data matching activities between the Department of Human Services [DHS] and ATO will be extended to enhance the integrity of social welfare payments," the government said in its Budget documents.

"From 1 July 2021, DHS will continue to enhance the integrity of social welfare payments, by extending data matching activities with the Australian Taxation Office ... this measure builds on previous measures to improve welfare payment integrity, supporting these activities until 30 June 2022."

The government said it is expecting to achieve savings of AU$299.3 million over three years from 2019-20 by extending DHS' fraud detection and debt recovery activities thanks to combining with the Department of Social Services' efficiencies of AU$373.4 million by 2021-22.

DHS had recently claimed that its data-matching program was "working well" despite a Senate Community Affairs References Committee reporting to the government in June that it had repeatedly heard from individuals that the OCI system had caused them feelings of anxiety, fear, and humiliation.

Centrelink's automated debt recovery system, dubbed "robo-debt", had erroneously sent letters demanding repayment from welfare recipients using an automated income averaging data-matching tool.

"The department's view would be, we wouldn't agree with the proposition that it didn't go that well," DHS acting deputy secretary of Integrity and Information Jason McNamara told the committee in March.

"We've made it quite clear that we think the project has gone quite well. We've delivered lots of savings. We have quite a number of reviews already undertaken and we have changed some aspects of the system, we've improved aspects of the system but I don't think we'd agree with the proposition that the project hasn't gone well."

The Commonwealth Ombudsman's own report into the robo-debt fiasco in April had labelled the calculation of debts "reasonable and appropriate" -- but said the method used was "unfair and unreasonable".

The government had forecast in its 2015-16 federal Budget that it would save AU$1.7 billion over five years by identifying overpayments using income data for the 2010-11 to 2012-13 financial years. In December it then announced that it was finding around AU$4.5 million that had gone awry each day since implementation of the system.

WPIT tranche three

As part of the Social Welfare Debt Recovery program, DHS will get AU$8.8 million in 2019-20, AU$8.1 million in 2020-21, and AU$55.6 million in 2021-22, while the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will get AU$1.7 million in 2021-22.

According to Human Services Minister and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Transformation Michael Keenan, tranche three of the WPIT program will extend it from Austudy and Youth Allowance recipients to those claiming age, disability, and job seeker pensions, as well as carer payments.

"Enabling people to conduct most of their business online removes the need for them to visit government offices or call us with questions, speeding up the time it takes to process their claims," Keenan said.

"While we deliver these major transformation projects, we remain committed to ensuring Australians can access the services they need, which is why we are also boosting our telephone capacity."

The government is expecting efficiencies of AU$35.4 million over five years under the WPIT program.

The government had announced in its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) in December that WPIT would be getting AU$104 million over four years to continue upgrading the system responsible for processing around AU$100 billion in Centrelink payments each year.

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge had previously labelled WPIT the biggest digital transformation the Australian government has embarked upon.

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