Doorstop – Adelaide – Child care subsidy debt

Sunday, 15 December 2019

AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD AND DEVELOPMENT: Well the latest information we’ve got is 16 per cent of all families using the child care system have actually received a debt notice or have a child care subsidy debt to the Commonwealth. So that’s a significant number.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: Some are only a few hundred dollars, there’s others that go into thousands of dollars. And this is primarily because the new child care system that the government introduced is overly complex and overly difficult. But we’re hearing from families that are challenging these debts and are actually finding out they don’t owe the Commowealth money. So my advice to anyone is please check, ring the Department of Human Services, ring Centrelink and check to see if you get one of these debt notices if you indeed actually owe a debt to the Commonwealth.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: Absolutely there is a real confusion for many parents about what Department they’re dealing with. What are the rules and regulations that they’re required to fill in? What is the complex activity test as well as the income test? So what was meant to be a more simple system has actually been very difficult for families, and we’ve actually heard from families particularly mums who have said they’re not going to go back to work because it’s just too hard for them. In addition a lot of families are saying because of the anxiety and just the difficulty of the whole thing it’s just not worth it.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: This was first discovered when people started putting their tax returns in, people started getting debt letters in the mail. But we’ve heard in the most recent Senate Estimates the huge number, around 90,000 families had already been established as owing a debt to the Commonwealth, and many families are still to be audited. What we’re finding is there is so many families caught up in this unknowingly. So many families had no idea that this new system would create a situation, especially at Christmas time, where they would be owing a debt. But what’s worse is some families are finding out the Commonwealth actually owes them money but they haven’t received it as of yet. What’s become really clear is the government is quick to accuse families of having a debt, but very slow to pay them when they owe them money.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: This is as a result of automated data matching, so there are circumstances where families’ tax returns are automatically audited with what they got paid for the child care subsidy. So partly it is because the government has chosen to go down an automated route, but also it is linked to robodebt because families are not getting the reason in the letters of why they owe the debt. It is unexplained to families about why they have a debt and what caused that debt. So once again my advice to families is to ring up and find out because you may not owe a debt at all.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: We think there needs to be a review, with so many families being picked up in this debt scenario. So we would like to see an urgent review actually looking at why so many families are ending up with a debt. Alterations needs to be made to the system to make sure that families are not unwittingly being caught up in this debt issue.

REPORTER: (Inaudible). 

RISHWORTH: I think the government needs to urgently have a look at the system, consult with families, consult with providers, work out a way so that so many families are not getting caught up.

REPORTER: (Inaudible).

RISHWORTH: The thing I’d say is to emphasise that the government is very quick to call in their debts, but very slow at paying families they owe money to.

ENDS

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