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9.3 Payment accuracy and correctness

The department conducts activities to ensure that it consistently pays the right person the right amount through the right program at the right time.

To provide assurance over the accuracy of social security payments, the department conducts random sample surveys. This is a point‑in‑time assessment of the customer’s circumstances for major payment types. This measure identifies errors by both the customer and the department.

Survey outcomes, known as payment accuracy, are published in the Department of Social Services annual report (see dss.gov.au).

The outcomes from the surveys also measure the department’s ability to pay customers the correct payment, free of administrative errors. This is known as payment correctness.

In 2018–19, the department achieved 98.34 per cent payment correctness against a target of 95 per cent.

Compliance program

In 2018–19, the department continued its commitment to effectively manage and identify risks to payment accuracy, ensuring customers receive the right payment at the right rate and at the right time.

Through targeted compliance reviews, the department engages with customers regarding discrepancies between the information customers provide and information held by external sources such as government agencies and third parties. These reviews are intended to help customers update their current circumstances and correct past mistakes that may result in debts and the reduction of fortnightly payments.

Table 51: Social welfare compliance activity

2016–17

2017–18

2018–19

Compliance interventions

1,193,335

1,263,926

1,693,110

Reductions in fortnightly payments

66,614

49,230

101,859

Value of fortnightly reductions

$24.5 million

$20.5 million

$26.5 million

Prevented outlays

$59.0 million

$36.4 million

$72.2 million

Debts raised

252,354

209,313

325,677

Total debt value

$511.3 million

$468.7 million

$885.8 million

During 2018–19, the department completed 414,859 compliance reviews based on employment income data matching. Out of the 414,859 reviews 105,920 were completed through enhanced data analytic tools that determined the customer had either a zero or a very low debt that was not economical to pursue. These reviews did not involve active engagement with the customer.

The remaining 308,939 reviews were completed across several iterations of the department’s online compliance portal which evolved as enhancements were implemented. Through each iteration of the online portal, customer engagement with the process has improved leading to fewer debts needing reassessment. Prior to February 2017, approximately 20 per cent of debts were reduced to an amount less than originally raised, including zero. In 2018–19, through the current iteration of the online portal, Check and Update Past Income (CUPI), the equivalent proportion of debts reduced was 1.9 per cent.

The department also undertakes early interventions to prevent debts for customers who are commencing employment. These interventions educate and assist people to understand their reporting obligations and to resolve issues when they have not complied with requirements because of genuine mistakes. The department also sends letters and text messages (SMS) to prompt people to update their circumstances to make sure they receive the correct rate of payment.

In 2018–19, the department undertook more than 242,300 early intervention activities, contributing approximately $72.2 million in prevented outlays.

Potential overpayments

The department uses data matching to identify possible discrepancies between the information customers provide and information held by external sources. The department then examines and investigates the data discrepancies. These data‑matching processes adhere to the Privacy Act 1988 and are carried out in accordance with the Guidelines on data matching in Australian Government administration issued by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

In 2018–19, external sources used included:

  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)
  • Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
  • Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation
  • Department of Education and Training
  • Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Home Affairs
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA)
  • Defence Housing Australia (DHA)
  • public and private education providers
  • state and territory departments of corrective services
  • state and territory registrars of births, deaths and marriages
  • state and territory land titles offices.

Use of private financial resources

The Social Security Act 1991 encourages people to use private financial resources, such as compensation payments, before accessing a social welfare payment. It also ensures that any compensation payments for an injury or illness are considered in the calculation of any social welfare payments.

Under the Act:

  • if a person and/or their partner claims or receives a social security payment, they may be required to take action to obtain compensation when it may be payable
  • the department can recover past payments of social security from arrears payments of periodic compensation payments and lump‑sum compensation payments
  • periodic payments, such as weekly workers’ compensation payments, reduce the rate of social security payments—any excess is treated as income for partners of compensation recipients
  • if a person receives a lump‑sum compensation payment, they will not receive social security payments during the preclusion period.

So that individuals fully understand the effect of a compensation payment on future social welfare payments, the department requests that they discuss the effect of their preclusion period with department staff. This helps them to make informed decisions about their financial situation.

Individuals and their legal representatives can also access an online estimator on the department’s website to estimate the effect of a pending compensation claim.