Centrelink to push customer aggression training despite debt recovery controversy

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A man walks into a Centrelink, part of the Australian government's department of human services where job seekers search for employment, in a Sydney suburb
A man walks into a Centrelink, part of the Australian government's department of human services where job seekers search for employment, in a Sydney suburb, August 7, 2014. Reuters/Jason Reed

Staff of Beleaguered Centrelink will undergo Advanced Customer Aggression Training soon amid public backlash that the government agency is facing due to its contentious debt recovery regime.

In a contract tender that was made public before Christmas, the Department of Human Services said it was "seeking providers suitably qualified to deliver a high quality of Advanced Customer Aggression Training Services to the Department's Customer Facing Staff, Team Leaders and Managers."

The department, mainly responsible for the welfare agency, will be specifically providing the training to Medicare and Child Support staff.

According to the Department of Human Services, the training is not a new concept. "All customer-facing staff and managers are required to attend training.” The staff training aims to reduce and manage customer aggression, Human Services spokesperson Hank Jongen said. 

Jongen has also mentioned about other ways to manage customer aggression. These include providing security systems and procedures, effective customer service approaches, including restricted service arrangements and emergency procedures. When Centrelink staff will receive the training is yet to be announced.

The ABC reports that 170,000 Australians have received debt notices from Centrelink. It is the total number for the past six months as a result of an automated system which crosschecks information from different government agencies. But some people who received the debt notices claim that they are being told to pay debts that never existed.

Centrelink utilises data from the Australian Tax Office. The system allows them to identify whether or not people incorrectly obtained unemployment payments.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter revealed that the government has recouped $300 million, thanks to the system.

"In 80 per cent of instances the debt is repayable to the Commonwealth, in the final 20 percent of instances the matter is resolved generally speaking by people simply providing information online," Porter said.