LETTER: Ball and chain to be placed on debt dodgers

WELFARE debt dodgers are warned they could be hit with international travel bans as part of a new push to recover hundreds of millions of dollars owed to taxpayers.

The Department of Human Services began issuing Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs) in June to prevent former welfare recipients from leaving the country if they have an outstanding debt that they have consistently refused to repay.

More than 20 DPOs have already been issued and the department is now looking to escalate their use to help recover more than $800 million owed by more than 150,000 people who are no longer in the welfare system.

These people are making no effort to repay their debts and the government believes that if they can afford to go on an overseas holiday, they can afford to start repaying what they owe.

We make no apologies for the tough action we are taking, as many of those who are in our sights have known about these debts for years – in some cases for up to a decade. 

Others accrued their debts as a result of deliberate acts of fraud and have gone out of their way to evade attempts by my department to sign them up to repayment plans, repeatedly ignoring our calls, letters and emails.

The message we are sending to them is that you cannot ignore us forever. 

If you received a payment you were not entitled to, you have an obligation to repay the money you owe and we will use every tool at our disposal to ensure it is recovered on behalf of Australian taxpayers.

The simplest way to avoid having your travel plans disrupted is to contact the department immediately to arrange a repayment plan.

How much you have to repay each week or fortnight will depend on your personal circumstances and those experiencing genuine hardship can have their repayments deferred. 

Those who are currently receiving a welfare benefit, or are already making repayments, are not being targeted by this new measure.

A Victorian customer who owed a debt of about $60,000 as a result of fraudulent claims was hit with a DPO after receiving warnings. 

The person has since begun making regular repayments and the DPO remains in place to ensure they continue to comply.

Australians believe in a fair go for those who fund the system – the Australian taxpayer. That is why we are working hard to recover this money so that we can keep the welfare system viable and affordable. 

That enables us to guarantee other essential services such as schools, transport and hospitals.

Michael Keenan,

Federal Human Services Minister

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