From 2 November, Services Australia will begin contacting welfare recipients if they think people have been paid too much, with the government ending the pause put in place due to the pandemic.
Areas that remain in a state of disaster such as Victoria will continue to be exempt.
The agency won’t, however, begin taking money from Aussies until February 2021.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the delay in debt recovery will allow people to plan for the future.
“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,” Mr Robert said.
“As debt activity starts again, Services Australia will work with people to make the process as clear and simple as possible. The agency will explain how debts arose, where to go for more information, how to self-service and offer other support.”
During the period between debt raising and recovery, people will be able to commence repayments of their debt voluntarily, Mr Robert confirmed.
“People continue to have the option of repaying any overpayments assessed prior to the debt pause if they choose to and it can be managed within their personal circumstances,” he said.
“Services Australia has a range of services to help people manage an overpayment including online tools and specialist staff such as social workers who can provide short-term counselling, information and referrals to other services for Australians in need.”
The debt repayment scheme used to be automated until blunders landed Centrelink in hot water and it was declared unlawful by the Federal Court last year.
ATO claws back $120 million in JobKeeper payments
On Tuesday, ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn disclosed that $120 million out of the total $69 billion JobKeeper payments has been reclaimed from businesses deemed ineligible.
Mr Hirschhorn explained that while a vast majority of businesses have done the right thing, the ATO had caught several employers red-handed, noting that the misuse of the program appeared to be more “opportunistic” rather than high-level systemic fraud.
In catching out the wrongdoers, the ATO has used the help of Services Australia, having requested access to the data of 3 million Aussies earlier this year as it narrowed in on stimulus fraudsters.
At the time, the Institute of Public Accountants general manager of technical policy, Tony Greco, told MyBusiness that while the ATO is deep-diving into identification details of million of Aussies, and any JobKeeper and JobSeeker niceties, it’s not doing anything out of the ordinary.
“The various stimulus measures were put in place very quickly, and the ATO, to their credit, has done a fantastic job putting all the infrastructure in place to facilitate the payment of benefits,” Mr Greco said.
The ATO did acknowledge at the time it would be looking for double dippers — those receiving both the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments at the same time.