InDaily InDaily

Support independent Journalism Donate Subscribe
Support independent journalism


Centrelink robo-debt system "Orwellian, bullying": Senate inquiry


Dealing with Centrelink over welfare debts is like talking to a brick wall or being bullied, those who’ve tried say.

Print article

A Senate inquiry into Centrelink’s welfare payment recovery program will hear on Wednesday from people who have been told they incurred debts.

While the individual cases will be heard in secret, two of those giving evidence have given their opening statements to AAP.

“Despite spending so much time trying to understand the system, I don’t have any trust in the way Centrelink comes up with robo-debts,” Letecia Luty will tell the senators in Melbourne.

She was told in February she owed the government $2300 and asked to produce payslips from 2011.

“They asked me to ‘accept’ the debt. They did not explain what the robo-debt was based on and it felt quite pushy, like I had no choice but to accept the debt,” Luty will say.

“Robo-debt feels like a bullying system that affects people who are the most vulnerable.”

After she asked for a formal review, the amount was reduced to $400, but it wasn’t explained how this figure was reached and no review was done, as far as she could tell.

Licensed rigger Ken O’Shea will tell the committee the inconsistent nature of his jobs means Centrelink’s averaging system doesn’t work for him.

“I’m not doing this because I want Centrelink to wipe my debt, I want them to stop using averaging, which would never work for someone in my employment situation,” he will say.

He was told he owed $7000 and has been trying for two years to get to the bottom of how and why.

“The robo-debt system is truly Orwellian. I have heard politicians say that you just need to call up Centrelink to fix your debt,” he will tell the committee.

“Trying to go about disproving the alleged debt to Centrelink has been like talking to a brick wall.”

The robo-debt scheme matches tax office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

People are contacted if Centrelink thinks they might owe more than $1000.

The government has admitted about one-fifth of initial letters included information that was later proved to be wrong.

The department disputes the characterisation of such letters being called debt notices, although the Commonwealth Ombudsman has said he understands how some people receiving them would consider them one.


Want to comment?

Send us an email, making it clear which story you’re commenting on and including your full name (required for publication) and phone number (only for verification purposes). Please put “Reader views” in the subject.

We’ll publish the best comments in a regular “Reader Views” post. Your comments can be brief, or we can accept up to 350 words, or thereabouts.

InDaily has changed the way we receive comments. Go here for an explanation.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Local News Matters

Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.

Donate today
Powered by PressPatron

More News stories

Loading next article