|ST VINCENT DE PAUL WARNS CAUTION ON ACOSS FIGURES|
The St Vincent de Paul Society has reacted cautiously to Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) claims that up to 220,000 people will be fined by Centrelink this year, the Catholic Weekly reports.
The fines relate to breaches of the rules governing social security payments and take the form of reductions in such payments. The breaches relate to Newstart allowance - social security payments received by the unemployed, as opposed to disability allowances for those unable to work full-time for medical reasons.
For a first offence in breach of Centrelink's activity test requirements, an 18% reduction in benefits will apply for 26 weeks. A second offence will incur a 24% reduction for 26 weeks, while a third offence will incur non-payment for eight weeks. Activity tests relate to job search efforts - demonstrating to Centrelink that the minimum number of jobs were applied for and appropriate records of such applications kept.
Administrative breaches vary from failing to attend Centrelink information seminars to failing to respond to correspondence. The penalty imposed is simply a 16% reduction in payments.
During the 1998-99 financial year, 165,492 people were penalised for both administrative and activity breaches.
While stating that the Society would be a little hesitant in accepting the 220,000 projected figure for those penalised during this financial year, SVdP spokesperson, Lucy Limbers said: "Heavy penalties can be a little indiscrim-inate. With these policies it is hard for the Government to be discerning."