Calls for government to urgently refund botched debts

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The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has called on the government to immediately cancel all robo-debts and refund the money, plus interest, after revelations it owes nearly 450,000 people more than half a billion dollars in false robo-debts.

An exclusive report in The Guardian last week revealed that the government expects to lose an upcoming class action against the income compliance program commonly referred to as robo-debt and intends to settle.

The report also revealed that while Centrelink resources have been diverted into dealing with new JobSeeker claims, Services Australia staff continue to chase Australians for payslips and bank statements in an effort to validate potentially unlawful welfare debts.

The Guardian reports that a leaked ministerial submission to cabinet from government ministers Stuart Robert, Anne Ruston and Christian Porter, prepared last month, reveals that the commonwealth expects to refund more than 400,000 debts over the next 12 months.

“Services Australia estimates that it will administer 449,500 refunds determined under the program, and their associated repaid debts would be refunded commencing in July 2020 and concluding within 12 months,” it says.

The submission says Services Australia estimates that “$555.6m in cash payments have been received from recipients to date for those in-scope debts”.

ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said it was important that the money be refunded straight away in these trying times.

“These are damning revelations, and we urge the federal government to immediately repay what it owes to people across Australia,” Dr Goldie said.

“Many of these people are applying for income support or were already receiving income support. They are in desperate circumstances and should never have been charged with a false debt.

“As we know, there is unprecedented demand for Centrelink. Centrelink staff should not be tasked with administering robodebt, especially when people cannot get through to someone on the phone to access essential income support.

“Robodebt should never have seen the light of day. It must be immediately shut down and all false debts repaid.”

ACOSS social security adviser Charmaine Crowe also called on the government to further expand Centrelink as more people continue to lose their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

““In addition to cancelling robo-debt, ACOSS calls for Centrelink staffing to be boosted by 15,000,” Ms Crowe said.

“While 5000 extra staff is welcome, it will not meet demand, especially if one million people lose their jobs.”

ACOSS wrote to minister Stuart Robert and minister Anne Ruston last week calling for the following:

  • an additional 10,000 permanent Centrelink staff in addition to the 5000 already announced to meet demand
  • a hotline for people to call to access income support
  • a broad communication campaign to advise people on what they need to do to access income support
  • suspension of mutual obligation requirements during the coronavirus crisis
  • allow online identification to speed up claims process.

Should the government immediately refund the money taken through the botched robo-debt program?

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Written by Ben


Total Comments: 21
  1. 0


    And the ministers responsible for it should be prosecuted for theft, fraud, and anything else
    that we, their employers, can think of.

  2. 0

    Concept is simple – if people won’t claim their refund, they will either not get it or it will be delayed. Simple mathematics – those without the ability or mental acumen to claim are left in the cold, thus mitigating the ‘cost’ of an administrative error.

    An organisation that couldn’t effectively deal with disagreements in the past and relied instead on The Big Stick, is hardly likely to have the staff to handle this new task.

    How will Hank sell this one to the general public? The Smiling Assassin, Jabba The Hutt.

  3. 0

    I don’t care which government is in power, robbing people by using “We are mightier than thee” tactics is just not on. How could the drunken boofhead Cur back in the mid seventies dismiss the Whitlam Government? So why can’t the present Governor General dismiss the LNP? after all, they are now considered criminals and are downplaying their predicament if the class action goes ahead. The present GG is a lapdog, selected for his “don’t rock the boat” demeanor.

    Why or how could we as a nation be so blind and actually vote in this mob last election?
    You know, they (LNP) had to be dragged kicking and screaming to admit they must do something (or appear to do something) and actually support people doing it tough or else! Now ScoMo is trying to show us all what a wonderful job he’s doing to protect us all.

    Never forget, it was ScoMo and Co. who until recently were bragging about the budget surplus and they were the better managers. Now in a crisis, they are splashing money around (yes, necessary) as if they own it, and have now been caught with their pants down over the Robodebt incident on top of that. How many would be pensioners have missed out on a pension or part pension. Why did they sack so many CentreLink staff and why did they give the Centrelink Department over to private contractors? Do you think present contractors will employ more staff? I bet they won’t at least not from their pockets and will only do so if the taxpayer (not the LNP) double their payments or there about, to the contractors.

    That brings me to another point. Where are they going to find experienced day staff who know the Social security rules and regulations under the Act. All new outside staff will take at least a year to become familiar with the intricacies of the Public Service. So saying the staff will increase by 5,000 to 10,000 to replace experienced staff made redundant to bolster the budget “surplus” is pure BS, and typical LNP hype. The present government are masterful at converting their failings into a glory for all conundrum.

    • 0

      That’s my worry also. OK to talk about increasing staff numbers (that have been decimated over past few years). But my dealings with Centrelink during the past 2 years, can only be described, politely, as diabolical. Constantly getting incorrect and inconsistent information, advice and details, having to constantly explain same thing over and over to different staff, then if you miss saying or doing one thing wrong, it is your fault and have to start all over again, taking weeks.
      If the current staff are so untrained, heaven help the mess any newly rushed in staff will be.

    • 0

      What do expect Jo Jozep you Commies put up an absolute idiot in Bill Shorten the man had no Knowledge of what he was talking about (he does have a Low IQ) and the public saw through him anyway there are more important people than you free loading pensioners most of you cheat anyway to get the bloody thing.

    • 0

      And the insults fly thick and fast.. more thick than fast.

      JoJo has hit on one of the underlying causes of The Great Malaise currently underlying public discussion, comment and interaction in this once great nation of people….. the insolence of elected office.

  4. 0

    You have really nailed this one JoJozep.

  5. 0

    No, where persons have committed fraud such debts can’t be forgiven, suspended – yes- until some normality to the economy and systems return.

  6. 0

    Come on Robo. We expect people with a reasonable mind debating issues on this post. Denigrating someone because they pamper their own seats (literally speaking) and someone who has an opinion different to yours, are two different things.

    So as to inform the ignorant, I am not a “Commie”, Bill Shorten is far better educated than you say and if Bill has a low IQ, I would guess yours is immeasurable. If you don’t know or understand what that means, be honest enough to admit it, and I will attempt to teach you the basics of debating. I only debate historical facts, not stupid assumptions.

    To give you an insight of what some basic learning means, I quote a person named Napolean who said
    “My greatest battle in life was to convince a fool he was one”

    • 0

      If your not a commie you sure act like one you can’t even spell Kerrs name correctly no doubt a little bit behind at school where we, are well that is why all lefties are on the pension no brains.

    • 0

      Well robo, I bet you were never behind at school, because I doubt that you ever attended one.
      – You can’t spell “you’re” correctly
      – You can’t “Kerr’s name” correctly
      – You can’t spell “were” correctly
      – You can’t spell “ah” correctly
      – You have no idea how to structure a sentence, or how to correctly use punctuation or capitalisation.

      In summary, you are a blithering idiot, and I will not be dignifying you by reading any replies to this.

    • 0

      Hey Comrade Hawkeye you are easy to work out your a bloody lefty school teacher who probably lost his superannuation for touchy feeling with the kids, that you school teachers do and now on the pension you are a failure in life.

    • 0

      Robo, (Debt),

      Please leave your slings and arrows at the door. This site is generally used by people who have a modicum of common sense.

      I resent your comment of “all lefties are on the pension no brains”. Being a left handed person and not on the pension although retired for over 10 years makes your comment completely illogical in my estimation.

      Make of that what you will.

  7. 0

    Wonder how many commenting here are affected by that – I am certainly not. Even harking back to Whitlam? Let the bugger rot in peace.

  8. 0

    I tried that recently with the ATT after I confronted Centrelink on a payment they said I owed from over 4 years ago due to their admin stupidity after I had been upfront and honest over a possible additional payment. Did have to pay some of it but the rest was wiped – but ATT said recently no go in getting the bit I had to pay back – oh well I tried

  9. 0

    Guess what! I haven’t had a good laugh for years on reading the BS about schooling and correct spelling etc. Didn’t know Commies are supposed to be hopeless spellers,that really made my day.

    By the way, Whitlam called GG Kerr “Cur” (to Anonymous) and you can look up what “Cur” means. That way you might just see new words in the dictionary and learn something. At least it’s a good book for you’re education.

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