A data matching program between the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia has flagged around 135,000 Australians who were receiving welfare payments when eligible for JobKeeper.
The data matching program, which has existed since June, was established by the ATO to identify inappropriate access to JobKeeper, as well as the government’s early access superannuation scheme.
It was expected to source data from Services Australia to “verify eligibility” for recipients of the government payments to understand whether payments were falsely obtained.
As many as three million Services Australia customers were anticipated to have their data matched over a three-month period.
At senate estimates on Thursday night, Services Australia deputy chief Michelle Lees said the data sharing had flagged 135,000 people who had been nominated by their employer for JobKeeper, but hadn’t “declared JobKeeper payments as income on their records”.
“Based on the data exchange information, we were aware that there are approximately 135,000 people who were receiving a social security payment identified by an employer as being eligible for JobKeeper,” she said.
“It doesn't necessarily mean, in some instances, when we contact them they might say well in actual fact I haven't received a JobKeeper payment, whereby we'd refer that back to the ATO to follow up.”
Services Australia CEO Rebecca Skinner added that it was possible to be registered for welfare support, but be “sitting on a nil rate [of payment] for JobSeeker”, while receiving JobKeeper.
“Just to be clear, we might have information that we believe that they were in receipt of JobKeeper. I think it's important that ... there’s a range of categories of circumstance there,” she said.
“One is they were on JobSeeker and they didn’t declare JobKeeper, that’s a possibility, there are cases where they can have both, and there could be cases where they didn’t actually get JobKeeper and then that’s a matter for the ATO.
Asked by Greens senator Rachel Siewert whether it was “possible that the employers would have got money for that person”, hinting at the prospect of fraud, Skinner responded “that’s a possibility”.
“But I think that’s a matter for the ATO because how the employer was registered, so we’re not really in a position to stay whether that’s the circumstance. It’s that they were registered, and so we provide that back to the ATO to follow up,” she said.
“It is our purpose here to try to support people to make sure that they don't end up in a debt situation, that's why we've taken such a proactive approach using the data exchange to support us there.”
Data matching for the JobKeeper and early release of superannuation is just one program set up by the ATO and Services Australia this year to assist its compliance functions, and ultimately avoid a repeat of robodebt.
Last month, Services Australia also began matching the data of welfare recipients against the ATO’s single touch payroll data to simplify income reporting obligations by pre-filling details onto its online services.
The data will also be used to identify any “significant difference between STP income and the estimate the customer has provided to Services Australia, and nudging the customer to suggest that they revisit their income estimate”.