6.7.2 Debt recovery
This section contains information on the recovery of debts arising under the SSAct.
Australian Government departments and agencies MUST pursue recovery of debts unless:
- the debt has been written off as authorised by an Act, or
- the Chief Executive is satisfied that the debt is not legally recoverable, or
- the Chief Executive considers that it is not economical to pursue recovery of the debt.
As Justice Sheppard of the Federal Court stated in Director-General of Social Services v Hales (1983) 5 ALN N162:
- the consideration that the [recipient] had, for whatever reasons, received public monies to which she [or he] was not lawfully entitled … must always be a paramount consideration [in the process of debt recovery]. After all, the legislature has expressly provided for recovery of overpayments in the very legislation pursuant to which these benefits are paid.
Recovery of debts under the SSAct enables DSS and Centrelink, in the context of limited social security resources, to maintain a high level of services to the community.
The fundamental purpose of debt management is to recover debts as quickly and efficiently as possible without causing real financial hardship to debtors.
In addition, consistent with the aims of a modern social security safety net that helps people move out of welfare dependency, the process of debt recovery under the SSAct must avoid creating disincentives for debtors to take up work opportunities.