Pensioners and students are likely to get caught up in the ongoing Centrelink crisis.
Pensioners and students are likely to get caught up in the ongoing Centrelink crisis. Warwick Daily News

Centrelink saga may become your problem

CENTRELINK'S debt recovery fallout is far reaching and if you are under 25 or over 65, it may become your problem next.

Pensioners and students are likely to get caught up in the ongoing crisis as Centrelink braces for a new wave of customer service problems this month.

The agency's workers will soon have to cope with hundreds of thousands of student benefit applications and pensioners trying to understand the January 1 changes to their payments.

Many of the 330,000 seniors who have had their payments changed are likely to approach Centrelink for information, creating backlogs and heaping more misery on the agency's staff and welfare recipients.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) assistant national secretary Michael Tull said the union held serious concerns about Centrelink's ability to cope with student and pensioner payments and queries.

The warning came as the Commonwealth Ombudsman announced it had launched an investigation into the debt collection project that aims to recover to $4 billion in overpaid welfare but has targeted tens of thousands of innocent clients.

"This debt recovery scheme needs to be urgently suspended until the significant problems with it can be identified and fixed, and particularly with an even more heavy caseload coming for staff because of the pension cuts and as people need Centrelink's support to commence their studies," Mr Tull said.

The CPSU is worried that the student benefit debacle of early 2016, which saw hundreds of thousands of young people have their benefits delayed by up to four months, could be repeated in the next few week.

Centrelink service standards have already dropped to "unacceptable levels", Mr Tull said.

Human Services spokesman Hank Jongen yesterday said that demand for customer service was nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.

LAW CHANGES THIS MONTH

Pensions:

About 236,000 Australians have had their pensions reduced and 91,000 part-pensioners will lose their payments altogether as the tighter assets test is introduced.

But 171,500 pensioners with modest assets will get an average increase in their pension of about $30 a fortnight, and 50,000 of those will move to a full pension, according to the Government.

About 698,000 seniors have started receiving Centrelink letters explaining how they could be affected.

The amount of assets (excluding the family home) someone can have before pensions are hit is increasing but pensions will cut out more quickly for those with assets exceeding $375,000 for homeowner couples, $450,000 for single non-homeowners, and $575,000 for non-homeowner couples.

Education:

New VET student loan program begins, replacing the old VET FEE-HELP scheme. Students can get loans up to $5000, $10,000 or $15,000 depending on costs for a limited range of vocational courses.

Industry Skills Fund, offering grants to help small businesses train staff, closes.

The period students from regional and remote areas have to work to get the Youth Allowance is cut from 18 months to 14 months.

Extra funding to schools for students with disabilities.

Six research block grant schemes for universities is consolidated into two simpler programs.

Taxes:

Backpacker tax - working holiday-makers will have to pay 15 per cent tax from the first dollar they earn and forego 65 per cent of any superannuation earned when they leave the country. They can no longer claim any tax-free threshold.



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