Ombudsman review leads to an overhaul of Income Management decision making
The Department of Human Services’ (DHS) income management decision making has undergone significant revision and improvement in response to concerns identified during an Ombudsman review.
Acting Ombudsman Alison Larkins today released her office’s investigation report into two aspects of DHS’ income management decision making. The investigation examined decisions not to exempt a person from income management because they are financially vulnerable and decisions about applying income management to a person because they were considered vulnerable. The reviewed decisions had all been made between August 2010 and March 2011.
The report highlights that the initial decision-making tools and guidelines used by decision makers did not adequately assist them to meet legislative requirements. The Ombudsman’s review also identified problems with the use of interpreters, record keeping, training and dealing with review and exemption requests.
Ms Larkins said that she was concerned that some decisions reviewed by her office did not show that legislative criteria had been met and many lacked a sound evidence base. Letters designed to explain decisions were inadequate and unclear and did not inform customers of their review rights.
‘DHS decisions need to comply with the legal requirements, accord with policy instructions and meet the income management program objectives,’ Ms Larkins said.
‘And it is only fair and reasonable that letters should explain decisions, do so in clear language that is free from jargon or terms not widely known, and provide information about how to ask for a decision to be reviewed.’
Ms Larkins said that because of the seriousness of the issues her investigation found, she took the unusual step of writing to DHS and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) part way through the investigation to raise her concerns. DHS immediately commenced its own internal review. Ms Larkins commended both agencies for their actions and commitment to fix problems her office had identified. She said that since she first raised her concerns, the DHS and FaHCSIA have taken substantial action to address the problems, including:
- establishing a taskforce to review decisions, training, decision-making tools and templates, policy and guidelines and to develop a quality framework for income management decisions
- amending decision-making tools and processes to ensure decision makers properly address the legislative criteria
- revising its training packages and delivering training to 300 staff
- updating policy, reference material and guidelines to better reflect the intent of the legislation
- improving procedures relating to the use of interpreters and establishing a working group to advise on the appropriate use of interpreters in line with best practice
- updating and improving template decision letters.
‘DHS and FaHCSIA have accepted all of my recommendations. I commend their commitment to improving administration of the income management program and look forward to reviewing their progress in three months,’ Ms Larkins said.
The Ombudsman’s report, Review of Centrelink* Income Management Decisions in the Northern Territory: Financial Vulnerability Exemption and Vulnerable Welfare Payment Recipient Decisions, is available from www.ombudsman.gov.au.
Media contact: Fiona Skivington 0423 845 160
*When the Ombudsman commenced the investigation, the responsible agency was Centrelink. Subsequently, Centrelink was incorporated into the DHS.
Date of release: 7 June 2012