The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has released its Auditor-General Report No.1 2018–19, The Implementation and Performance of the Cashless Debit Card Trial.

The objective of the audit was to assess the Department of Social Services’ implementation and evaluation of the Cashless Debit Card trial. The Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT or the trial) aimed to: test whether social harm caused by alcohol, gambling and drug misuse can be reduced by placing a portion (up to 80 per cent) of a participant’s income support payment onto a card that cannot be used to buy alcohol or gambling products or to withdraw cash; and inform the development of a lower cost welfare quarantining solution to replace current income management arrangements.


  • The Department of Social Services largely established appropriate arrangements to implement the Cashless Debit Card Trial, however, its approach to monitoring and evaluation was inadequate. As a consequence, it is difficult to conclude whether there had been a reduction in social harm and whether the card was a lower cost welfare quarantining approach.
  • Social Services established appropriate arrangements for consultation, communicating with communities and for governance of the implementation of CDCT. Social Services was responsive to operational issues as they arose during the trial. However, it did not actively monitor risks identified in risk plans and there were deficiencies in elements of the procurement processes.
  • Arrangements to monitor and evaluate the trial were in place although key activities were not undertaken or fully effective, and the level of unrestricted cash available in the community was not effectively monitored. Social Services established relevant and mostly reliable key performance indicators, but they did not cover some operational aspects of the trial such as efficiency, including cost. There was a lack of robustness in data collection and the department’s evaluation did not make use of all available administrative data to measure the impact of the trial including any change in social harm. Aspects of the proposed wider roll-out of the CDC were informed by learnings from the trial, but the trial was not designed to test the scalability of the CDC and there was no plan in place to undertake further evaluation.


  • Recommendation no.1: Social Services should confirm risks are rated according to its Risk Management Framework and ensure mitigation strategies and treatments are appropriate and regularly reviewed.
  • Recommendation no.2: Social Services should employ appropriate contract management practices to ensure service level agreements and contract requirements are reviewed on a timely basis.
  • Recommendation no.3: Social Services should ensure a consistent and transparent approach when assessing tenders and fully document its decisions.
  • Recommendation no.4: Social Services should undertake a cost-benefit analysis and a post-implementation review of the trial to inform the extension and further roll-out of the CDC.
  • Recommendation no.5: Social Services should fully utilise all available data to measure performance, review its arrangements for monitoring, evaluation and collaboration between its evaluation and line areas, and build evaluation capability within the department to facilitate the effective review of evaluation methodology and the development of performance indicators.
  • Recommendation no.6: Social Services should continue to monitor and evaluate the extension of the Cashless Debit Card in Ceduna, East Kimberley and any future locations to inform design and implementation.

The Department of Social Services’ response has agreed to the six recommendations.

(Source: Australian National Audit Office | Read the full report)


ACOSS Calls on the Federal Government to Cease Mandatory Cashless Debit Card Trials

Following the ANAO report, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has called on the Federal Government to cease mandatory cashless debit card trials, including withdrawing its bill to expand cashless debit to parts of Queensland.

Acting ACOSS CEO Edwina MacDonald stated, ‘as we have said all along, cashless debit card curtails people’s freedom and must be thoroughly evaluated to determine whether the significant incursion on people’s lives is justified. The ANAO report shows that the evaluation was deeply flawed, failing to provide the evidence that the cashless debit card improves people’s lives. It is a tragedy that people and communities are being subjected to the trials without reliable evidence that restricting access to cash reduces social harm related to addiction.’

Instead, ACOSS calls on the government to redirect the millions of dollars spent on mandatory cashless debit card trials to proven measures for addiction, including improving mental health services in trial sites, tailoring services to meet community need and investing in community-led solutions.

(Source: Media release)

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