Amongst the whirlwind of controversy surrounding Centrelink’s new automated debt collection methods, the government department has taken to Tweeting the contact info for Lifeline to indebted Aussies.
In the wave of controversy surrounding their new debt collection methods Centrelink has taken to Tweeting the contact info for Lifeline to indebted Aussies.
Centrelink has been sending out around 20,000 debt-compliance letters a week since the Turnbull government introduced a new computer-based system back in July, up from its usual rate of about 20,000 a year previously. Many have slammed the system as being faulty.
The agency’s official Twitter account has been responding to users stressed about receiving debt notices during the Christmas period and has referred a bunch to Lifeline.
— Centrelink (@Centrelink) January 4, 2017
@Centrelink Please shutdown your faulty debt reclaim system. It is causing massive amounts of stress for very little gain.
— shuningbian (@freespace) January 5, 2017
This is just one example of users being referred to the suicide hotline after being sent inaccurate debt-recovery notices.
Me: hey I haven’t felt suicidal at all this week!
Centrelink: we’re debting you $4000 and you can’t leave the country until it’s paid
— joon1 (ᵕ.ᵕ) (@jonnoxrevanche) December 30, 2016
@jonnoxrevanche We’re concerned by ur comments. If u disagree u can ask for a review. If u need immediate support, call Lifeline – 13 11 14
— Centrelink (@Centrelink) December 30, 2016
@Centrelink o.O I called the number. They told me Centrelink was Closed. And auto-disconnected me.
*having a VERY bad mental health day*
— Stephanie ☀️?? (@fpvs) December 27, 2016
@fpvs Our offices & call centres are closed today. Pls call tomorrow so we can help. For urgent support or advice call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
— Centrelink (@Centrelink) December 27, 2016
However, Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said yesterday the process was not linked to the department’s new debt compliance activities.
“It is a long-established process that we provide information about the department’s social work services to customers who are at-risk, or who threaten suicide or self-harm. We take all mentions of this nature seriously,” he said.
Despite the sincerity of the Lifeline referrals, many Twitter users have slammed the process as being a further evidence of a flawed system.
People may not actually NEED lifeline if y’all stopped harassing them for fictitious debts????! Just an idea
— BAD NEWS BEARS ? (@billy_b0nes) January 4, 2017
What sort of Government terrifies its poorest people then tells them to ring Lifeline?Centrelink debacle must stop. PM should intervene now.
— Christine Milne (@ChristineMilne) January 4, 2017
— Rebekha Sharkie MP (@MakeMayoMatter) January 5, 2017
The drama comes just days after independent MP Andrew Wilkie told reporters that he had four different people approach his office he believed to be suicidal after receiving the letters.
“I’ve had people who have approached me who have been frightened, absolutely scared, people who are paying this money because they are so frightened by this very official letter,” Wilkie said on Wednesday.
“I’ve had four people now approach me in my office who I would describe as presenting as suicidal and in all those cases we’ve taken what action we thought was appropriate.”
“I’m not blaming Centrelink for this, I’m blaming the government. I’m blaming the relevant ministers, I’m blaming the PM who is responsible for his government,” he said.
“And I’m making the point in the strongest and clearest possible terms: it is not good enough for a minister to stand up yesterday or today and to crow about something that is terrifying Australians and bringing some Australians to the brink of suicide.”
Read more about the Centrelink debacle here.