Govt uses data matching to sweep prisons for welfare fraud

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Govt uses data matching to sweep prisons for welfare fraud

Seeks to recoup millions.

The federal government has turned its data matching efforts towards prisoners engaged in welfare fraud, and claims to have clawed back $3.2 million in the last year alone.

The government has taken a dedicated focus to those cheating the welfare system from within Australia's jails over the past few years, Human Services minister Alan Tudge revealed today.

Prisoners are not eligible for welfare payments, but many fail to inform Centrelink of their change in circumstances, Tudge said.

The government has therefore been on a data matching campaign with state and territory corrective services to identify prisoners and cross check names with the Centrelink database.

Tudge said 4900 instances of welfare fraud or overpayments had been identified last year, with $3.2 million clawed back in debts to the Commonwealth.

He said the Coalition government had recouped $16.5 million in debts from 21,000 prisoners since it came to power in 2013.

But the government is finding it more difficult to deal with those who "go to extraordinary effort to avoid being caught by authorities" - "a criminal element who excel at trying to get around the law".

The focus of the past 12 months of prisoner data matching has centred on improving the ability to identify aliases, Tudge said - when people use false personal details to avoid being caught in the data matching efforts.

As a result the government is "upgrading [the] sophistication" of its data matching abilities. Tudge did not provide details.

He claimed the government was able to identify prisoner welfare fraud within two weeks "almost 90 percent of the time". 

His department's data matching efforts entered the spotlight last year when errors reconciling Centrelink debt records with data from the ATO saw hundreds of people sent letters incorrectly advising of a debt.

The government has pulled back slightly on its automated data matching efforts since the so-called robodebt scandal, introducing a human checker into the process to verify a debt notice before it gets sent to an individual.

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