Centrelink’s Automatic Debt Raising and Recovery System, known as ‘robodebt’, is flawed and is causing serious harm in the community, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) told the Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into the Centrelink Compliance Program today.
“The ‘robodebt’ process seems to go against the Department’s debt recovery guidelines that state that evidence is required to support the claim that a legally recoverable debt exists,” said ALA spokesperson, Mr Greg Barns.
“The use of averaging reported income over the period of time someone has received an income support payment is leading to incorrect calculations of alleged overpayments and the individual is then responsible for proving that the alleged debt is incorrect.
“The person affected is required to prove their innocence on the basis of very limited information and this is causing many people serious stress and anxiety.
“It is extraordinary that Centrelink cannot improve its debt information systems to ensure that only as a last resort, and in rare cases, does it need to send out letters to clients asking the clients to effectively do Centrelink’s work for it.
“These flawed practices are at the heart of ‘robodebt’ and the harm it continues to cause across our community. This is despite the fact that there have been changes made to the tenor of communications with clients. The reality is that many recipients of these letters seeking clarification or information have financial literacy or broader literacy issues, are homeless or suffer from serious illness.”
The Government’s own debt recovery guidelines warn that averaging income will result in mistakes because unless income earned was consistent each fortnight throughout the year, averaging will produce an incorrect assessment.
“Government has insufficient evidence to claim that overpayments exist from carrying out a crude data-matching process,” said Mr Barns. “The Government is abusing its power by claiming that thousands of debts exist on the basis of inaccurate debt calculations based on averaging income.
“The flawed nature of the ‘robodebt’ system is evident in the fact that when Centrelink is challenged in the courts over the debt, it refuses to proceed and wipes the debt or settles the matter.”