ADELE HORIN April 18, 2012
Missing out ... parents might not know they are eligible for the Parenting Payment. Photo: Peter Braig
AN ESTIMATED 113,000 Australians are missing out on the Parenting Payment despite being eligible to receive it but the federal government shows no interest in trying to locate them, a new study claims.
It says the government takes an active approach to help people find lost or unclaimed superannuation but does not help people claim social security payments they are entitled to get.
The extra Parenting Payment alone could cost the government $1.2 billion a year.
The study by David Baker, acting research director at The Australia Institute, says ''the government is preoccupied with finding people who are receiving assistance to which they do not qualify; consequently it ignores people who are missing out''.
It says it is difficult to assess the number of eligible Australians who are falling through the social security safety net. The federal government last made a calculation in 2004 when it concluded 1.3 million appeared to qualify for assistance but were not getting it.
An analysis by Mr Baker, based on data from Centrelink and the 2009 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey found 113,176 families should be getting the Parenting Payment, paid to single parents and to parents whose partners had low incomes, but were missing out. The payment would have been about $206 a week to them.
A nationally representative online survey by The Australia Institute found of 1034 people more than one-third said they had ''definitely'' missed out on social security benefits either because they had not realised they were eligible or the process discouraged them from applying.
Mr Baker said the data matching program the government used to identify welfare cheats could be adapted to find the people who were missing out on payments. The program cross-checks income and personal details held by government agencies.
In 2009-10, data matching identified overpayments in 9 per cent of cases reviewed, and in 0.1 per cent of cases there were prosecutions for fraud.
But Mr Baker said the numbers missing out on payments greatly exceeded the number prosecuted for fraud.
The Minister for Human Services, Kim Carr, said the data-matching program was designed to protect public revenue. It was geared to identifying discrepancies where customers have declared higher amounts of income and assets to the Australian Taxation Office compared with social security records.
He said using data matching to locate people missing out on benefits would require "the department to maintain a national database of all Australians as well as recording and updating their financial, personal and social circumstances in line with possible eligibility requirements".
But Mr Baker said the Australian Tax Office already held data on family income and the number of dependent children and, applied to a random sample, that information could be used for an initial assessment of eligibility. The data could be matched with Centrelink customers to see whether families were missing out.
In a related paper he argues the government should spend millions to advertise established social security benefits in the way it spent heavily to promote the Education Tax Refund, a benefit introduced in July 2008 to help with school expenses.
Senator Carr said a wealth of information was available at www.humanservices.gov.au about the different types of payments and services available. As well, the department had a network of social workers, indigenous, multicultural and prison liaison officers.