People who owe Centrelink money will once again have to start repaying their debt from early next year prompting a warning from seniors advocates that some older welfare recipents may be adversely affected.
Services Australia has announced the temporary nation-wide pause on debt recovery will end in February 2021 except for areas that remain in a state of disaster such as Victoria.
Services Australia will gradually begin debt-raising activity from November 2, saying it will work with people to make the process as clear and simple as possible explaining how debts arose, where to go for more information, how to self-service and offer other support.
The Australian Government put in place a debt-pause on April 3 to help ease pressure on people's budgets during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Delaying debt recovery until February 2021 recognises the difficulties many people are still facing. It will provide time for people to consider their circumstances, engage with Services Australia about their options in a transparent way and plan for their future. This could include adjusting the information they are reporting to Services Australia," said a statement from the office of the Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert.
However advocacy peak Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association warned that many older people new to the social security system could be affected.
"There are about 320,000 people over 55 on JobSeeker. About 140,000 of them are relatively new to JobSeeker after losing their job due to COVID-19," said CPSA's Paul Versteege.
These 140,000 or so new entrants can be affected by resumption of Centrelink debt raising and recovery activities because their link with the workforce may be a lot stronger than it is for people who have been on Newstart and Jobseeker for a while. New entrants may still be picking up scraps of work, which they then have to report to Centrelink. Reporting can be fraught as it is, but particularly for people new to the social security system.
"CPSA urges Services Australia and Centrelink to be considerate in their approach and mindful that many new entrants, including older Australians, may be unfamiliar with applicable reporting requirements. They may unintentionally get it wrong and deserve a light approach."
Mr Versteege said the CPSA also urged the Government to raise the rate of JobSeeker permanently.
For information about why an overpayment has occurred, customers can contact their regular payment line or go to servicesaustralia.gov.au/phoneus
For information about repaying a Centrelink debt contact the Centrelink debt line on 1800-076-072.