The former Coalition government has been accused of mismanaging the accuracy of welfare payments. 

The recently-elected Labor government says the accuracy of JobSeeker payments has decreased from 93 per cent to 83 per cent in the last two years.

Minister for government services Bill Shorten says job cuts at Services Australia under the previous regime were the leading cause of the inaccuracies.

“It has also meant that the agency has been unable to undertake compliance activities, meaning welfare debts have remained unchecked for years,” Mr Shorten said this week. 

“We have a responsibility to take steps to recover debts owing and therefore efforts to recover existing debts will need to recommence. Importantly, it is possible for people with debts owing to enter into payment arrangements with Services Australia.”

Minister for social services Amanda Rishworth says the Morrison government’s failure to invest in welfare has resulted in 17 per cent of Jobseeker payments being incorrect.

“Debts owed by welfare recipients have drastically increased, with some sitting in the system for over three years, so some people aren’t even aware that they’ve received too much money from Services Australia,” she said. 

“While the former Government paused debt recovery and compliance activity due to COVID lockdowns and natural disasters, they should have been taking steps to make sure people were getting the right amount of money in the first place.”

The criticism comes within days of changes to Jobseeker’s mutual obligation requirements, introducing a Points Based Activation System (PBAS).

Under the new system, people on JobSeeker payments will have to hit a certain amount of points monthly, with different allocations for applying for a job (5 points), doing paid work (5 points for every 5 hours), and other activities such as relocating for a job (100 points). 

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union has described the new system as ‘The Hunger Games crossed with Black Mirror’. 

“Using technology to 'gamify' starvation points (score them or lose your payment) is morally offensive to basic human decency,” it said. 

“We also do not trust the government one bit to make automated decisions with regard to welfare recipients,” the union said in a statement. 

“We still do not have clarity from the Department on how exactly the reporting will work, how problems will be handled or resolved, and whether Centrelink has the appropriate capacity to deal with the increased call centre inquiry volume,” said the union’s advocacy coordinator, Raquel Araya.

“We already deal with people being cut off their payments unfairly every day in the existing system because of automated errors as a result of shonky Employment Services Providers.”