Letter from Concerned DHS Customer

Australia Government
Department of Human Services
The Minister for Human Services
Suite M1.52
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Email: minister@humanservices.gov.au

General Manager
Child Support
GPO Box 9815
Melbourne Vic 3001

Re: case XXX XXX XXX XXX

Dear Sir,

I refer to the above mentioned case in which I am the payer of entitlements.  I have had a number of unsatisfactory dealings with the Child Support Agency (CSA) in relation to harassment, errors and inability to deal appropriately with reasonable enquiries.

I have been unfortunate enough to be dealing with the CSA since 2006.  During this time I have noticed what I believe to be discrepancies, biases and injustices in many areas.  I raise some concerns below to you in the hope that at the very least some form of cogent response can be had and, at best, that the minister may see fit to conduct even a cursory investigation into what I have found to be some frequently occurring issues.

Unreasonable Communications:
I am concerned at the apparent lack of record keeping, follow-up or information provided by CSA.  On each occasion that I speak with someone from CSA, I receive differing and sometimes conflicting information about my situation or enquiries.  I am often treated in a condescending manner, with the implied undertone that I am wrongly seeking to avoid paying child support and often when I refer to a prior reference given to my by CSA staff, I am told that these references (and therefore conversations) do not exist.  On many occasions I have received so called COMPUTER GENERATED LETTERS which time and time again have been incorrect to some extent. on ringing about said letters, Im either told that it was an incorrect computer generated letter or that no record of the letter exists despite the physical copy in my possession.  I wonder if the minister would review the record keeping system and look at measures to educate staff to be impartial and respectful, as these do not appear to be in place?

I am also concerned about the harassing phone calls received by CSA at all hours of the day and night including one occasion at 5 minutes to midnight, one at 4am and on many on weekends.  In these calls I am often insulted, harassed and threatened with prosecution if I do not pay outstanding child support payments.  I am not averse to paying what is due and have made some enquiries as to this (see below), there is no need to harass and threaten me.  I have reported this to the Ombudsman who confirms that these times, frequencies and sorts of calls should not be made.  The CSA assures me that they do not make these calls and yet I often hear from them at unreasonable times.  I respectfully request that the minister re-enforces with CSA staff that calls are to be made at reasonable times and frequencies and are not to be harassing or threatening in nature.  If this behaviour continues, I shall make note of the calls and callers and seek legal advice as to my protection under s474.17 of the Criminal Code.

I have also, through and at the advice of the Ombudsman requested to CSA that I be a Write only customer.  CSA has paid no heed to this and I have re-iterated this when I received yet another call from CSA via XXX (call reference number RXXXXXXXX).  Should I receive further phone calls from CSA I shall seek legal advice as to my rights.  I respectfully request that the minister takes measures to ensure that Write only customers are just that.

In stark contrast, when I have requested information that I am reasonably entitled to, I have not received it timeously or, in some cases, at all.  On one occasion I requested a Change of Assessment and was told that it was the prerogative of the CSA staff member to issue this and they would not issue it.  On another occasion I was told that forms were in the post but over the course of 8 weeks, I received nothing.  During this time harassing and threatening calls to me continued and eventually I had to enlist the aid of the Ombudsman whereupon the forms arrived within the week.  I do not believe it unreasonable to expect prompt service or to be given reasons for refusal to provide information or forms which I can only obtain through, apparently, the discretion of whomever seems to be on duty at the time.

The behaviour of CSA staff has caused me a lot of undue stress and anxiety in what is already a very stressful and unfortunate circumstance.  I am seeking a fair and reasonable response to various matters I have raised and have been treated like a criminal at each step of the way.

Change of Circumstances / Assessment / Payments:
I refer to the case for my child XXXX XXXXXXX XXXX. This case should not be reopened. I have raised concerns that, as she has done in the past, the childs mother, XXXXX, has fraudulently informed the CSA that she has XXXX in her care when she has not.  She has received benefits that she was not entitled to and I have been refused any review or reimbursement even when CSA confirms that this has occurred.

When I have enquired about reimbursement of monies paid when they were not due, I have been told, e.g. in a conversation with your staff (RXXXXXXXX) that monies paid when they were not due or paid in error or following fraud are virtually unrecoverable as the law favours payees and recovery of monies depends solely upon whether she(or he) is willing to pay the money back freely. It appears that there is no recourse for monies paid due to CSA errors or inefficiencies.  For example, a letter sent to me on XX December 20XX stated that, What this means for you: You are no longer required to pay child support from XX October 20XX for XXXX because the amount of time XXXX cares for him is not enough to receive child support.

However, payments had continued to be taken up to XX December (nearly two months) as CSA had not managed to keep me even reasonably informed and they had not acted upon their own information and ceased payments on XX October.  I have repeatedly raised this issue and informed CSA that XXXX does not have sufficient care of XXXX to attract payment of benefits, including RXXXXXXXX in September 20XX.  I have contacted your Fraud Line who refuses to assist and instead they refer me to Centre Link who also cannot assist.  I respectfully ask the minister to review not only this matter, but also the inefficiencies in the communication of information and the blatant refusal of redress for monies paid (taken) in error or in conflict with known information.

I ask that the minister please assist me in the recovery of monies overpaid (taken) by CSA.

Most importantly, I urge the minister to put in place (or review) a proper process for proof of care that, in cases where concerns are raised or probable, is done at least monthly and is not merely a word-of-mouth / telephone confirmation by the parent alleging care.

Our case history shows that XXXX is unstable and does not have the faculty to suitably care for a child.  She has made false statements about care in the past and I have not only suffered the financial cost of this but mistreatment by CSA staff.

Should the minister desire, more information in support of my complaint and circumstances in general, this can be obtained from:
Xxxx Xxxxxx
North West, Metropolitan region
71 Morland St.
Vic
(03) 92757000

And

The Department of Child Protection Western Australia

Lastly, I wish to complain that the CSA appears to be an organisation that discriminates against payers and particularly against males.  In 2008 I had my son living with me whilst XXXX was in a mental health ward at the XX XXX Hospital XXX Unit.  I attempted for many months to start a child support case with the CSA but kept being told that I could not start one until CSA personally got in contact and talked with her!  Yet within 48 hours of her doing a runner with my son, CSA had sent me out a child support account and wanted me to pay without personally contacting me beforehand to discuss.  This occurred again in 2010/11 when CSA started a support case against me without contacting me personally to discuss.

As further evidence of prejudice, in my recent conversation with XXX (XXXXXXXX), she told me if it were her case she would not have stopped child support for XXXX even though XXXX no longer had care.  I believe that there are too many CSA employees applying their own opinions, judgements and prejudices.

Of course I have tried to raise all of the above issues with CSA.  However, the CSA Complaints Line is another part of your division that decides who gets to lodge a complaint and what we get to lodge a complaint about. If they dont agree with the complaint we wish to make, CSA refuse to generate a reference.  Without this reference, I am unable to take my complaint to another level, such as the ombudsman.

I respectfully request that, if the minister will not or cannot assist me, that at least I am granted a complaint reference number so that I may take this matter outside of CSA for review.

In summary I am respectfully requesting of the minister:

  • A response to my complaints in general and in regards to my personal matter
  • Reimbursement of monies taken in error

Review of my case and the care of XXXX, especially the tenuous and intermittent care alleged by his mother and the woeful proof of care currently undertaken.

In general I respectfully request that the minister:

  • Consider reviewing or reinforcing CSA procedures in regards to information, record-keeping, phone calls and write only customers
  • Consider reviewing or reinforcing that CSA is meant to be non-prejudicial, non-discriminatory and respectful of reasonable and appropriate enquires or concerns
  • Consider reviewing or reinforcing procedures to ensure efficient and accurate service and communication
  • Consider reviewing or reinforcing better practices in proof of care checks particularly in known problem situations
  • Consider reviewing or reinforcing equitable, reasonable and accountable handling of complaints and enabling complaints not resolved by CSA to be taken to the ombudsman or other relevant authorityI reiterate that I am not trying to avoid paying of entitlements.  Similarly, I do not wish to pay entitlements if I do not have to.  I wish to be treated with respect and fairness.  I wish to have reasonably prompt, efficient and unprejudiced assistance.  I wish not to be harassed and threatened unreasonably.  I wish for a reasonable and fair method of review of decisions by CSA.  Finally, I wish for my complaint to be acknowledged and dealt with in a reasonable manner.Yours Sincerely
    X X Xxxxxx

Source : http://flwg.com.au/forum/pg/topicview/misc/child-support-agency/letter-to-the-dhs
(note the “Minister’s” response is shown at the above link also)