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Have an outstanding debt to Centrelink? Border Patrol and the Department of Immigration may stop you at the departure gate.
The Department of Immigration and Border Patrol will soon team up with Centrelink to stop people from leaving the country if they have family assistance or social security debts.
Under new legislation, government agencies will work together to enforce Departure Prohibition Orders (DPOs) on anyone owing a debt to Centrelink, according to reports in Huffpost Australia. Debtors with DPOs will be stopped by border security at international points of departure and prevented from going overseas.
It is reported that DPOs will be enforced regardless of the size of the debt, until either the amount owing is paid in full, the debtor makes an agreed lump sum payment or enters into a repayment plan.
DPOs will also reportedly be enforced regardless of how long the proposed trip out of Australia is for. But it is also understood that debtors may be able to leave the country for cultural reasons or family emergencies such as a funeral, so long as they have applied for, and received, permission to do so.
Departure Prohibition Orders
DPOs have existed in Australia for some time, and “airport watch lists” are used to prevent certain people from leaving the country. DPOs can be used against parents who owe child support payments and people who owe tax, but this is the first time they will be applied to those who have a debt to Centrelink.
Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, says that the number, size and duration of debts to Centrelink is a serious concern.
Debts can arise from social security payments, family assistance payments, paid parental leave entitlements and student benefits, and the government has been getting increasingly tough on their enforcement in recent years.
Impending changes are intended to primarily target former welfare recipients who have the means to pay back their debt, but are failing to do so – whether by way of lump sum payments or entering an instalment plan.
Under the crackdown, the government will also introduce interest charges on debts (at a rate of 9 percent per annum) until payment plans are entered into.
The government will also remove the current time limits to pay back debts, hoping the measures will be a positive step towards recovering the $870 million owed by around 270,000 Australians.
If you are concerned about a debt you may owe to Centrelink, an experienced criminal defence lawyer may be able to help.