robo-debt

About 200 people rallied in Melbourne on January 31 against the Turnbull Government's new practice of sending computer-generated debt notices to people who have received or are receiving Centrelink payments.

Up to 90% of these debt notices are false. Many people have received debt notices demanding they repay thousands of dollars that they dispute owing. Centrelink staff have been instructed not to fix any obvious errors unless the person complains.

The government has not made a mistake with the Centrelink robo-debt notices. It knows it is sending out incorrect notices.

Centrelink staff warned management the notices would be wrong and the new debt recovery system would incorrectly claim overpayments.

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately halt Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system, protect government whistleblowers and end an ongoing “abuse of government power” that is causing distress and financial hardship to some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.

ACOSS joined a wide range of charities, welfare groups, legal bodies, unions and advocacy services, which have all expressed serious reservations about the accuracy and fairness of the debt recovery system.

The federal Coalition government has unleashed robots to illegally extort $4.5 billion from poor people. The money for politicians’ perks, tax dodging by the rich and corporate hand-outs — such as the $1 billion dollars given to coal giant Adani — has to come from somewhere.

I became aware that Centrelink were trying to pin a cooked-up “robo-debt” of $5558 on me through a text message from the aptly named Probe group debt collection agency.

There resources about how to dispute a Centrelink debt letter, including GetUp! which has a page that sends a bunch of letters to key places in one go. 

It would surprise the federal Coalition government — that assumes we dislike welfare recipients as much as it does — that one of its biggest problems at the start of the year is the Centrelink debt fiasco.

Over the past six months, 170,000 people received debt notices from Centrelink, with the number gradually rising to 20,000 a week.

By comparison, only 20,000 debt notices were issued for the whole of 2015.

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