Union calls on government to suspend 'absolute nightmare' Centrelink debt recovery system


The public sector union is calling on the federal government to suspend its controversial Centrelink debt recovery system, warning the public will suffer as staff struggle to cope.

The CPSU says service standards have already dropped to unacceptable levels following thousands of job cuts in the Department of Human Services, with the latest scandal piling on more pressure.

"There's a perfect storm of work coming, with this debt recovery scheme likely to be just part of the problem," assistant national secretary Michael Tull said on Tuesday.

There's been widespread criticism that the new automated data matching system, which uses information from the tax office, has been issuing incorrect debt notices.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman is investigating the system, which the government has used to claw back $4 billion in overpayments to welfare recipients.

"This scheme is an absolute nightmare for thousands of Centrelink customers who've done absolutely nothing wrong, and the staff who are bearing the brunt of this mess," Mr Tull said.

Image of Centrelink sign. Source: AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

He said staff have been struggling in a system that's been in crisis for years, with the union concerned about Centrelink's ability to cope in coming months.

"The serious problems with this debt recovery program are piling on even more pressure, and feeding more aggression from understandably frustrated customers.

"Thousands of jobs have been cut in the Department of Human Services and that's why service standards have dropped to unacceptable levels, including 36 million missed calls to DHS just last year alone.

"This is an agency in desperate need of proper resourcing, otherwise it's the general public who will continue to suffer."

Mr Tull said the debt recovery scheme needed to be urgently suspended, as Centrelink staff brace for even more work with new students expected to apply for benefits and as a result of recent changes to the pension.

The union is calling on the government to shift thousands of DHS casuals to permanent staff to deal with the deluge of work.

Linda Burney, Labor's human services spokeswoman, said a "perfect storm" was brewing at Centrelink and backed calls to suspend the system.

"Centrelink is at breaking point," Ms Burney said on Tuesday.

"This is nothing but a money grab by this government."

Ms Burney said it was hypocritical of the government to allow Sussan Ley to retain her position when she is the subject of two investigations over taxpayer-funded travel, while wrongly accusing vulnerable Australians of owing money.

She has written to the Australian National Audit Office requesting an inquiry into the debacle, which she expects to be confirmed early next week.

Today's top news stories- January 10