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Benefit debt reducing, recovery climbing

11 October 2006

Benefit debt reducing, recovery climbing

Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope said today that benefit debt incurred in the last financial year was $7 million less than in the previous year.

"Debt arising from fraud or abuse has declined, and the amount of debt being recovered has increased," Mr Benson-Pope said in response to the selective release of as yet unpublished answers to Parliamentary Questions from ACT MP Heather Roy.

"The government always pursues benefit debt, and we take proactive measures to prevent debt occurring.

Mr Benson-Pope said that a clear distinction needed to be made between debt resulting from fraud or abuse and debt resulting from recoverable advances for essential needs like school uniforms and household appliances.

"Recoverable advances are a responsible and socially just means of enabling families to meet urgent needs," he said. "Families seeking an advance have a cash and asset test, we ensure they can afford repayments, and we don't advance more than the equivalent of six weeks net benefit.

"Mrs Roy would like to see government impose penalties on benefit debt repayments, knowing the extreme hardship this would cause to low-income families, and the added cost of supporting families who reach crisis as a result," he said.

"Labour is not a punitive government, and nor are we a government that dishes out money with no expectation of repayment."

Mr Benson-Pope said that Mrs Roy's claims were another example of the Opposition grasping at straws. "They can't attack the government on things like a 30% reduction in benefit numbers, the success of Working for Families, or the highest ever level of labour force participation. Instead, they resort to this kind of somewhat desperate spin," he said.

ENDS

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