Centrelink to collect your data

Tuesday, 18th April, 2017

Recently passed welfare reforms allows Centrelink to demand pensioners data from financial institutions.

HUNDREDS of thousands of Australian pensioners will soon have their financial information harvested by the federal government.

From January 1 next year Centrelink will have the power to force superannuation funds, annuity providers and other sources of retirees income to send it details of payments they make to part pensioners.

A clause in the recently passed welfare reform bill allows for the data harvesting which is expected to save $38.1 million over four years.

Department of Human Services General Manager, Hank Jongen said the measure would simplify how income stream information was provided to the department by introducing a mandatory electronic one-step data exchange and matching process between the department and income stream providers.

" The automatic transfer of this data from income stream providers is not new, and already occurs via voluntary arrangements with some providers.

"Currently, a recipient may be asked to obtain income and if applicable, account balance information from their provider and then they have to manually submit this information to the department," he said.

Under the new system the income stream providers will submit information about the products held by all of their members directly to the department.

"This measure will make it much easier for recipients who will no longer have to regularly report their income and if applicable the account balance to the department, and will avoid overpayments that can occur when people make mistakes with their reporting," said Mr Jongen.

Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association spokeswoman Ellis Blaikie said that while the association supported measures that ensure welfare compliance, she wasn't convinced it was the best way to go about it.

"Where's there's evidence that someone's been ripping off the system, then data matching is an appropriate step. But why should age pensioners be subject to this level of surveillance when they've done nothing wrong - privacy is a serious concern for many.

"Pensioner want to know what sort of checks and balances are going to be put in place to stop a repeat of the Centrelink robo-debt disaster.

"Trust in Centrelink computer systems is at an all-time low after the robo-debt scandal, so pensioners are naturally worried about the government's plans to introduce automatic data matching for superannuation income streams," said Ms Blaikie.

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