News

The Centrelink Twitter Account Is Now Referring People To Lifeline

Not a great sign.

As current and former welfare recipients continue to grapple with the latest Centrelink fiasco, the agency has taken to tweeting out the phone number to Lifeline Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention.

The Centrelink twitter account shared the Lifeline phone number yesterday while communicating with a user who said he was struggling to find work, and was at risk of being hit with a debt notice due to an error in communication between Centrelink and his university.

It’s one of a number of recent instances of Centrelink directing people to Lifeline in the wake of its automated debt recovery system hitting welfare recipients with erroneous debt letters.

Although the tweets are undoubtedly well-meaning, frustrated users are holding them up as proof of the agency’s dysfunction and the damage being done by the debt recovery debacle.

Tellingly, the most recent Lifeline tweet came on the same day that independent MP Andrew Wilkie said that Centrelink’s overzealous approach to debt recovery has indeed been making people feel suicidal.

“We are seeing reports now that Centrelink staff are dealing with very angry people, with scared people and that is entirely understandable,” Wilkie told reporters in Hobart on Wednesday. “I’m not blaming Centrelink for this, I’m blaming the government. I’m blaming the relevant ministers, I’m blaming the PM who is responsible for his government.”

Earlier this week, Social Services Minister Christian Porter defended the system, telling the ABC that “what this system is doing is raising real debts around real overpayments based on real cross referencing of evidence.”

But Wilkie said the government was “boasting about getting their budget back into the black by clawing back money from people who don’t owe them money.”

“I’ve had people who have approached me who have been frightened, absolutely scared, people who are paying this money because they are so frightened by this very official letter,” said Wilkie. “I’ve had four people now approach me in my office who I would describe as presenting as suicidal.”

“I’m making the point in the strongest and clearest possible terms: it is not good enough for a minister to stand up yesterday or today and to crow about something that is terrifying Australians and bringing some Australians to the brink of suicide,” he added.

Around 170,000 Australians have received computer-generated letters from Centrelink demanding the return of payments made up to six years ago, despite the fact that in many reported cases, the recipients were entitled to the money.

The letters have sparked widespread outrage, with members of both Labor and the crossbench calling for the automated system to be suspended.

If you’d like to talk about any issues with your mental health and options getting long-term help, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.