It used to be joked, ‘Why don’t public servants look out the window in the morning?’ Answer – ‘Because they’d have nothing to do in the afternoon!’ Nowadays at Centrelink, the staff don’t have time to look out the window at all because they are too busy raising and recovering overpayments!
For many Australians, Centrelink plays some part in their lives. If you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to deal with this delightful organisation, look away now. For the rest, plough on.
Over the past few years Centrelink has been slowly shifting from an ‘overpayment prevention’ mentality to one of ‘overpayment detection’. Centrelink used to regularly send out a barrage of forms, printouts and letters to its customers in order to keep its records up to date and to minimise the chance of its customers being overpaid. This was in line with the principle ‘Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today’.
It seems that Centrelink now prefers ‘Why do something today that you can put off until tomorrow’ because it has withdrawn most of its methods of reviewing customers’ income and assets, leaving it up to customers to notify Centrelink as their circumstances change, knowing full well that this is likely to result in an increased number of overpayments.
At ARA we have noticed a marked uplift recently in the number of overpayments being reported to our clients by Centrelink. We’ve also noted the distress this can cause. You might recall the public outcry played out in the media a few months back which was caused by a frenzy of overpayment letters being sent out to Centrelink customers thanks to Centrelink’s new toy, a whiz bang new data matching program which matches its records with that of the Tax Office.
To get on the front foot, we’d like to work together with our clients to try to ensure that their Centrelink records are up to date and overpayments minimised. You might have read in our latest quarterly Investment Update newsletter that we have appointed Despina Palios (Desi) to liaise with Centrelink on behalf of our clients. Desi used to work for Centrelink so she is well equipped to deal with whatever Centrelink should throw at us.
So please, help us to help you. If there are matters which need to be notified to Centrelink please call Desi (Tuesday to Friday) on 03 9853 1688 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to give her the information. Desi will then liaise with Centrelink on your behalf. The sort of things to notify include:
- Changes of more than $5,000 in the total of your bank account balances
- Increases or decreases in the number of shares you hold
- Going overseas for more than 6 weeks
- Lump sum withdrawals from superannuation or managed investments
- Sale or purchase of property
- Gifts or loans made by you
- Anything else which causes your assets or income to either increase or decrease
- If you are self employed, have a family trust, a company or a rental property, Centrelink wants to see the tax returns and financials every year as soon as they become available
- How much loose change is sitting in the ashtray next to your bed – just joking!
If in doubt, contact Desi and she’ll set you straight.