7.1.1.10 Obtaining Information - Person Who Owes a Debt to the Commonwealth

Obtaining information from a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth

Centrelink may require a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth under or because of the PPLAct to give information or produce a document to a specified agency if Centrelink considers the information or document is relevant to their financial situation. If the person's address changes Centrelink may also require the person to provide information of their new address, within 14 days after the change.

Example: Documents may include:

  • bank statements,
  • property title deeds,
  • employment details,
  • financial management and existing loan details, and
  • details of share or stock trading activities.

Obtaining information about a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth

Centrelink may require a person to give information or produce a document to a specified agency if Centrelink believes that the information or document would help the specified agency locate another person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth (the debtor), or that is relevant to the debtor's financial situation.

Explanation: The Commonwealth has an obligation to prevent people who are not eligible for payment from receiving PLP or DAPP. To help with this process Centrelink may require information from other sources such as the ATO and other Australian and overseas government departments, banks and financial institutions in order to determine an individual's entitlement to a payment. Centrelink is limited in the type of information they may request to verify and validate claims. See 4.1.3.

Written notice to request information

A notice in writing to request information from a person or about a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth must be by a written notice, which may be given:

  • personally, or
  • by post, or
  • in any other manner approved by Centrelink.

The written notice must specify the following:

  • a description of the information or document to which the requirement relates, and
  • how the person is to provide the information or produce the document, and
  • the period within which the person is to provide the information or produce the document, and
  • the agency and contact officer (if any) to whom the information is to be given, or the document is to be produced, and
  • that the notice is given under PPLAct section 120, and
  • if the notice requires the person to appear before an officer to answer questions, that the person may be accompanied by a lawyer and the time and place at which the person must appear (which must be at least 14 days after the day the notice is given, unless the Secretary is satisfied that it is reasonable in the circumstances to specify an earlier time).

Note: The notice may describe the information or documents by class (see Acts Interpretation Act 1901 subsection 33(3AB)).

Explanation: Providing a written notice to the claimant/recipient or employer enables Centrelink and the claimant/recipient or employer to retain and keep records. Allowing a minimum of 14 days for providing information enables Centrelink to make allowances for claimants/recipients or employers located in remote areas.

Relationship with other laws

No state or territory law can operate to prevent a person from giving information or producing a document or giving evidence where required to do so for the purposes of the PPL law, unless in doing so they would contravene a law of the Commonwealth (other than the law of a territory).

Refusing or failing to comply with a request

Refusing or failing to comply with a requirement to provide information or produce a document is a criminal offence with a penalty of imprisonment for 6 months.

This does not apply if the person has a reasonable excuse for failing or refusing to provide information or produce a document.

Exception: It is not a criminal offence under this section if the person to whom PLP or DAPP is payable refuses or fails to provide their bank account details.

Self-incrimination

A person is not excused from giving information, or producing a document on the grounds that the information or the production of a document might tend to incriminate or expose the person to a penalty.

However, in the case of an individual, any information, document or thing obtained as a direct or indirect consequence of giving the information or producing the document are not admissible in evidence against the individual in any criminal proceedings, other than:

  • proceedings for an offence against subsection 122(1) of the PPLAct, or
  • proceedings for an offence against section 137.1 or 137.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995, or
  • proceedings for an offence against division 145 of the Criminal Code.

Use of information in investigations etc.

Information given, or documents produced by a person in response to a request from Centrelink can be used in an inquiry or investigation into a matter or criminal proceedings.

Act reference: PPLAct section 118 Power to obtain information from a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth, section 119 Obtaining information about a person who owes a debt to the Commonwealth, section 120 Written notice of requirement, section 121 Obligations not affected by State or Territory laws, section 122 Offence-failure to comply with requirement, section 122A Self-incrimination, section 122B Use of information in investigations etc.

Last reviewed: 2 July 2018