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B50/1994 GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING DENUNCIATIONS

Document

DATE OF ISSUE:  26 OCTOBER 1994

GUIDELINES FOR HANDLING DENUNCIATIONS

Purpose

The purpose of this Departmental Instruction is to provide Branch Office guidelines for the handling of denunciations relating to service and disability pensioners.

What is denunciation?

2.A 'denunciation' is information provided to the Department which alleges that a pensioner is providing false or misleading information to the Department or is receiving a benefit to which they are not entitled.  Denunciations should be handled with extreme care, for they imply that a pensioner has not complied with his or her obligations to this Department.

Methods of Denunciation

3.There are several methods by which people make denunciations to the Department, eg

  • telephone call,

  • in writing,

  • statement at the counter; or

  • in general conversation with an officer of the Department on another matter.

Disclosure of Information

4.Every effort should be made to have the informant provide his/her name and address.  Informants are not obliged to give their names and addresses but they should be reassured that if they do so, their anonymity will be protected for FOI purposes and under the Privacy Act.

5.The informant can be advised that in the event of a request for such information it would be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.  Under section 27 of the Act the Department would have to consult with an informant prior to making any decision to grant access to any documents containing personal information about them.

6.It may not be possible to exempt information relating to pensionerss who are the subject of the denunciation but access to information relating to informants can be refused under various exemptions, depending on the circumstances.  The exemptions include:

  • section 41 on the basis that disclosure would be unreasonable disclosure of personal information relating to the informant;

  • section 45 on the basis that disclosure of the information would be a breach of confidence;

  • paragraph 37(1)(b) on the basis that disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to disclose, or enable a person to ascertain, the identity of a confidential source of information, in relation to the enforcement or administration of the law; and

  • paragraph 40(1)(d) on the basis that disclosure would have a substantial adverse effect on the proper and efficient conduct of the operations of the Department.

7.If the informant inquires about the outcome of departmental investigations it should be explained that the Privacy Act prohibits the giving of information about pensioners to third parties where the pensioner has not authorised the disclosure.  However, the informant can be told that the department takes all allegations seriously and will investigate and act on those found to be correct.

8.For a written response, you could provide something like this:

Thank you for the information you have provided.  All allegations are fully investigated.  Where these allegations are substantiated, action is taken.  However, because of the strict requirements of the Privacy Act,  I cannot provide you with information about the results of any action taken.

9.Officers dealing with denunciation cases must ensure that any access to information is processed under the FOI Act to protect the anonymity of the informant.  It should be remembered that any requests for access to information in documentary form should be passed to the FOI Section for attention.  It should also be remembered that careful perusal of documents will be necessary to determine which, if any, can be exempted.  Personal information about the informant may not just be a name or signature.  The Privacy Act defines personal information as information or an opinion about an individual whose identity is apparent, or can reasonably be ascertained, from the information or opinion.  Someone who describes himself/herself as "neighbour" may be readily identifiable without a name and address.

10.If the pensioner asks whether the Department is conducting an investigation into his/her affairs, we cannot deny that we are making inquiries.  The pensioner may be advised of the allegations that have been made, providing the informant is not identified.  However, it is not necessary to inform the pensioner of the investigation, or the reason for it, unless asked.

Obtaining Information

11.The Department has an obligation to investigate all allegations.  Some likely reasons for denunciations are a veteran's fitness for work, marital status, undisclosed income/assets, residency, eligibility for payment in respect of dependent children and eligibility for rent assistance.

12.If the information is provided at the counter or over the telephone, it is important to obtain as much relevant information as possible.  Anyone approaching the Department with information should be encouraged.  Without pressuring the informant, sufficient information must be obtained to correctly identify the pensioner concerned and the cause(s) of any possible overpayments.

13.DO:

  • be professional and polite when taking a call;

  • be sympathetic to the caller's reservations about providing information that could lead to action against a pensioner;

  • let the caller volunteer as much information as possible before starting to question him or her;

  • ask the caller's relationship to the pensioner;

  • thank the caller and encourage him or her to supply any future information that comes his or her way; and

  • explain the purpose of collecting information and advise the usual practice of disclosure (thereby complying with Privacy Principle 2).

14DON'T

  • rush the caller;

  • put pressure on callers to identify themselves;

  • use the term 'dob-in' in the conversation with the caller; and

  • leave the caller with the impression that a case will be investigated if there is insufficient information on which to proceed.

15.Similarly, if the information is provided in writing, it may be necessary to contact the person who provided the information (if that is possible)and for further information or clarification.  Care should be taken with written information.  Notations should not be made on the correspondence and it should always be filed, preferably within a plastic sleeve, regardless of whether there is any further action.

Checklist

16.As a guide, the following facts should be sought from the person providing the information:

a.Undisclosed employment

  • full name and address of pensioner;

  • possible age of pensioner;

  • name used for employment purposes;

  • name and address of employer;

  • type of employment (for example casual, shift work or full time);

  • period of employment.

If the pensioner is alleged to be running a business from home:

  • how does the informant know, or why does the informant believe, there is a business being run from the home?

  • the type of business

  • clients of the business

  • frequency/volume of business.

It is important when collecting information on employment to get enough detail to be sure this is not occasional employment.  A good description of the type of work, the hours and days worked and when the person started work would be significant information with regard to income.  It may be that the person had only a few hours work for a very short period and the estimated earnings would be too small an amount to have an effect on the rate of Service Pension.  Additional information describing in detail the type of work being undertaken would be significant in the case of a TTI or T&PI pensioner.

b.Undisclosed marriage-like relationship

  • full names and address of both parties alleged to be in the marriage -like relationship;

  • any children of either party;

  • employment details of parties (if known); and

  • evidence supporting the existence of the alleged relationship.

  • when did relationship begin?

  • evidence of financial support - pooling of financial resources, joint ownership, joint liabilities, sharing of expenses.

In cases of undisclosed marriages or marriage-like relationships it would be useful if questioning could help eliminate the possibility of people such as relatives, lodgers and boarders being incorrectly identified as the "partner".

c.Undisclosed income/assets

  • full name and address of pensioner;

  • details of income/assets;

  • evidence supporting the existence of the income/assets.

  • how long have income/assets been held?

  • how does the caller know this?

Undisclosed assets could include a boat or holiday home, and information on the whereabouts and acquisition date of the assets would be useful.  Disposal of assets may be a case of deprivation.  Accusations of undeclared income could result from remarks made about the performance of shares and the market in general, about purchases or plans made as the result of a compensation payment.  Detailed information about accounts, numbers and types of shares etc would be needed to investigate further and would be released by financial institutions only on a request made under s128 of the VEA.

Acting on Advice

17.The denunciation should be handed to the appropriate officer or area in your Branch.  If your Branch has designated officers to handle denunciations the case should be handed to them for action.  Branch Office procedures should be followed with regard to responsibility and clearance for the various stages of investigation.

18.Once a pensioner has been correctly identified, all details in the denunciation should be compared with the current records.  The first step should always be to check our records against the information received.  This includes checking when the last advice was sent to the pensioner and what it said in regard to obligations and whether this pensioner is subject to automatic review.

19.You need to also check the last time the pensioner was reviewed.  If it was only recently, then it would be appropriate to go ahead and investigate further.  If it is some time since the last assessment, the pensioner should be reviewed again before investigating the allegations.  This gives the pensioner the opportunity to come forward and notify a change of circumstances.  It may be that there were extenuating circumstances which explain why the information was not immediately relayed to the Department.

20.Any information collected must be in accordance with the Information Privacy Principles and DI B48/92 of 2 November 1992.  Collection of information must be justified as being correct and relevant under the Privacy Act.

21.Some information is readily available commercially or publicly without a formal request under s128 of the VEA.  There may be some variation from state to state but generally the sources would include the Electoral Office, Motor Vehicle Registry, the Land Titles Office and possibly the Registrar General's Office.  Some of these offices will give a government department, termed a "prescribed authority", access to do their own search.  Most require a letter from the department authorising and identifying the officer.

22.The information available from these sources includes full name and address, date of birth, occupation, ownership of property, mortgages, details of motor vehicles owned and disposal of previously owned vehicles.  Information on births, deaths and marriages, company registrations etc held by the Registrar's Office may not be available in some States except to members of the family or their solicitor.

23.Other sources of information are contained in Attachment A.

24.When the information can be obtained without divulging to a third party any information which would identify the pensioner, a s128 request is not required.  However, if there is any doubt that in the process of the search, information identifying the pensioner may be given out, it is essential to conduct the search under s128.  To divulge any information which would identify a pensioner is a breach of the Privacy Act.  Section 128 requests should be employed to protect the Department rather than to force a third party to divulge information.

25.Investigations should be continued until the examiner is satisfied that sufficient information has been obtained to make a decision on whether further action is required.

Investigating the Claims

Employment

26.If the alleged employer is a large organisation, a phone call to the personnel area may be sufficient to confirm the pensioner is employed there.  Details of the employment should then be obtained with a formal request under s128.  A phone call may be of little value if the alleged employer runs a very small business and the pensioner is a friend or relative.  In this situation a formal request under s128 would be a more appropriate approach.  A check with the Taxation Department may or may not provide useful information on employment, but could be a first step.

Rent Assistance

27.If an informant claims a pensioner is being paid rent assistance when in fact he/she owns (or a defacto spouse owns) the house in which they are living, the first step would be to check the files to see to whom the claimed rent was being paid. This could be an individual or a real estate agent.  A title search with the Land Titles Office will reveal who owns the property.  The local council (or appropriate authority in the state) would know to whom the rate notices are sent.

28.A pensioner could be accused of claiming rent assistance when they were not paying rent but were actually living either in a de facto relationship or simply rent free.  The 'landlord' should be able to produce a record of rent received.  It should also show on the taxation records of the landlord.  If a defacto relationship is uncovered in the process of investigation, there may also be, in addition to the rent question, a need to follow up on details relating to the partner's income/assets.

Marriage or marriage-like relationship.

29.The most likely reasons to hide a marriage would be that the veteran's partner has income or assets that would affect the pension or because both partners have been receiving pension at the single rate.  The first step would be to confirm that the couple are living together and that the partner is clearly identified as not being a relative (parent, brother, sister, son or daughter).

30.You will need to obtain the name of the partner.  If you have enough details, the Registrar's office could confirm a marriage.  If you have a name it could be matched with an address by checking with the electoral roll, the motor vehicle registry, employer, landlord or real estate agent, telecom etc.

31.In forming an opinion about the relationship of two people, the following matters which are described in more detail in s11A of the VEA, are to be considered:

  • the financial aspects of the relationship;

  • the nature of the household

  • the social aspects of the relationship;

  • any sexual relationship between the people; and

  • the nature of the people's commitment to each other.

Dependent Child

32.Similar difficulties are encountered with dependent children.  It is not necessary that the child be living with the pensioner so their absence from the pensioner's home is only significant if the pensioner has claimed they do live together.  Information previously given by the pensioner as to the children's school would be a good starting place.  If there is a suggestion that the child or children do not exist, then the birth register should be checked if enough information is available to begin a search.  A pensioner claiming dependent children from DVA is also likely to be receiving benefits for those children from DSS and the Taxation Department should also have details.

Undisclosed Income/Assets

33.It is essential to have details of income and the financial institutions involved, or details of the financial adviser handling the pensioner's affairs, to make any inquiries concerning income.  Assets may be more easily investigated particularly if they are property (land titles and council), motor vehicles or boats (registry).

Carers

34.It is not essential for carers to live with the veteran.  They may live with or adjacent to the home of the veteran.   The location of the carer's and veteran's residence would need to be carefully checked if a carer is reported as not providing personal constant care.  Carers are entitled to respite of 42 days, either continuously or for broken periods of time; to temporarily cease care to travel overseas and up to 10 hours per week for study, training or employment.  Any absence from the duties of carer may be for legitimate reasons and the dates of reported absences would have to be checked against Departmental records.

Outcome of Investigation

35.Having reviewed the pensioner's circumstances, perhaps made further investigations and gathered information under s128 from third parties, the examiner may decide to interview the pensioner.  Guidelines for interviewing are contained in the Overpayment Management Manual.

36.Where the new details confirm that a variation in pension is warranted, examiners should update the current records and submit the case to a delegate with the recommendation that any variation, suspension or cancellation should occur on the current reduction date.  Reasons for the recommendation should be included.

37.Reassessment action should be undertaken as soon as possible to minimise any possible overpayment.  The delegate will determine the appropriate action and advise whether reduction/cancellation from an earlier date is indicated.

38.Possible overpayments should be referred to the Overpayment Unit which will take recovery action and decide whether or not the case should be referred for prosecution action.

Contact Officer

39.Any queries relating to this instruction should be directed to Ann Donnelly on

(06) 289 6441.

NATIONAL PROGRAM DIRECTOR

(BENEFITS)

Attachment A

EXTERNAL INFORMATION SOURCES

The following agencies hold information which can be of assistance.

  • Australia Post

-name of person to whom mail is delivered at an address;

-redirection particulars;

-owner of post box and his or her employment details;

-directions to residential address.

  • Financial institutions

-account details, ie balance, names, deposits and withdrawals;

-loans, mortgages;

-address;

-drawers of cheques, eg employers.

  • Community welfare

-imprisonment or release details;

-foster children payments.

  • Corporate affairs

-name of company;

- owners, partners, directors or secretary;

-activity of the company;

-assets or liabilities;

-company date commenced/period of registration.

  • Councils

-property owner's name and address;

-business address;

-date of purchase;

-real property description;

-mortgage details.

  • Employers

-wage details and period of employment;

-addresses and telephone number;

-tax rebate details;

-next of kin details.

  • Electricity and water supply

-name under which registered.

  • Finance company

-loan details;

-names of applicants;

-employment details;

-other income;

-previous loans.

  • Motor vehicle registration

-given a registration number - the owner's name and address;

-address check of driver's licence;

-details of vehicles previously owned and sold;

-insurer.

  • Department of Immigration

-arrival/departure dates;

-age/marital status on arrival;

-residential status;

-sponsorship details;

-assurance of support details.

  • Landlords, real estate agents, caravan parks

-tenancy details;

-amount of rent;

-copies of leases and tenancy applications;

-tenant's employer, phone number;

-previous addresses.

  • Land Titles Office

-name and address of owner;

-mortgage details;

-date of purchase;

-given a name - details of properties owned;

-copy of title document;

-tenants in common versus joint tenants.

  • Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages

-date of event;

-copy of certificate;

-maiden name;

-child's father.

  • State Housing Authority

-name of tenant;

-date tenancy commenced;

-other occupants;

-relationship of occupants to tenant;

-rent paid;

-tenant's employer.

  • Australian Taxation Office

-taxable income;

-name of employer;

-dependants claimed.

  • Telecom

-name;

-date of connection;

-employment details on application form;

-address;

-copy of application.