Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Welfare and pension crackdown will reap $2bn over four years, says Coalition

 Extract from The Guardian

Scott Morrison says savings will offset announced extra spending over past few weeks and budget bottom line will be $1.1bn better over next four years

Further funds taken out of welfare system
Acoss chief warns the crackdown could lead to significant hardship for vulnerable people if it creates more automated or aggressive debt recovery. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP
The Coalition has said it will collect an extra $2bn over the next four years by cracking down on welfare and pension recipients.
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, said the money saved in the crackdown would offset the extra $1.2bn in election spending it has announced over the past few weeks for things such as tennis courts, CCTV cameras and community grants – principally in Liberal and National electorates.
With another $300m in savings made elsewhere, it says the Coalition’s budget bottom line will therefore be $1.1bn better – over the next four years – than it was before the election campaign.
It says the welfare crackdown is an election promise.
It also says the vast majority of Australian welfare recipients “do the right thing” so they needn’t worry about the Coalition’s proposed changes.
“Some welfare recipients make genuine mistakes in the information they supply to the government, which can result in reduced or cancelled payments,” Morrison said in a joint statement with the social services minister, Christian Porter.
“These reforms will cut red tape and ensure that mistakes are minimised so that recipients who are doing the right thing are not adversely affected or inconvenienced.
“These measures will also better target fraud in our social welfare system. We will better manage the welfare system to ensure we prevent, detect and deter fraud and compliance.
“No one who genuinely needs social welfare support and who is honestly disclosing their employment income and non-employment income will be worse off under our commitment,” they said.
They say a re-elected Coalition government will:
  • Ensure welfare recipients, including pensioners, disclose their assets and investments more often. It will require them to self-report more frequently, and submit to “improved auditing activities”. This will collect $527m over four years.
  • Ensure greater income data matching for welfare recipients, collecting $661m, and improve non-employment income data matching, collecting $527m. It will use income data cross-checking between the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink to do so.
  • Adopt real-time monitoring and real-time data analysis of online transactions to immediately address potential non-compliance by welfare recipients, collecting $285m.
In material accompanying the announcement, it says there are around 270,000 former recipients of social security and family assistance payments who owe more than $870m to the government and are not making appropriate effort to repay individual debts.
“We have saved more in this campaign than we have spent,” Morrison said on Tuesday.
“Labor have not saved anything in this campaign. They have spent and spent and spent.”

The Australian Council of Social Services chief executive officer, Cassandra Goldie, warned the crackdown could lead to significant hardship for vulnerable people if it created a more automated or aggressive debt recovery approach.
She said after three successive budgets have increased pressure on the most vulnerable households, the crackdown would take further funds out of the welfare system while doing nothing to ensure income adequacy for those living on the lowest incomes.
“Acoss strongly opposes taking any more money out of income support payments,” Goldie said.
“This is the last place the Coalition should be looking for savings to fund new election spending promises.
“People are struggling to survive on $38 dollars a day Newstart payments which have not been increased in two decades.”
Sarah Saunders, of National Seniors, said while they had not received the details of the crackdown, people would resent being treated as “ripping off” the system.
“Obviously if people are receiving payments they shouldn’t, we support a crackdown,” she said.
“But people resent being treated as ripping off the system if that is the mentality.”
Saunders said seniors would welcome better engagement because they struggle to get through to Centrelink and “when they do, they often get the wrong information”.
She said an audit office report published last year showed Centrelink telephone services were getting worse even though older Australians were more likely to rely on telephone services or to go into a Centrelink branch rather than use online services.
She said of the 56.8m calls made to Centrelink 1800 or 13 telephone numbers in 2013–14, 43.1m calls were answered while 13.7m calls were unable to enter the network, that is the calls were blocked and the callers heard the busy signal.
National Seniors has already warned that age pensioners are angry at the tightening of the assets test which is estimated to push 100,000 people off the pension. 

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