At least 20,000 Centrelink debts were either wiped or reduced in a nine-month period, newly released figures show, The Guardian reports.
The data, tabled in parliament this week, confirms what was already known about extent of problems with the so-called “robo debt” system.
It shows 7,456 debts were reduced to zero and another 12,524 were partially reduced but not wiped entirely, between July last year and March.
For the first time, the data gives a geographic understanding of where debts were issued. It shows high numbers of inaccurate debts in areas of western Sydney, Bundaberg, Mackay, Toowoomba, the New South Wales central coast and around Cranbourne in Melbourne’s south-eastern fringes.
Victoria Legal Aid’s executive director of civil justice, Dan Nicholson, said the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups were less likely to have appealed.
“I think on the face of it, it’s a shocking number of wrong debts to be alleged but in fact the most concerning thing is the very large number of people who would not have challenged their debts, and would now be paying back debts that were wrongly or unlawfully raised against them,” Nicholson said.
“We know those people are most likely to be the most disadvantaged in the community, and therefore the people that it may affect the most.”
The human services minister, Alan Tudge, has insisted the system is capable of calculating debts fairly. He pointed to to the ombudsman’s report earlier this year, which made a string of criticisms of the system but found it was able to accurately raise a debt, so long as it was provided with the proper information.
Criticism of the system began just before Christmas last year. From July last year, the government introduced a new way of clawing back debts from welfare recipients.
Do you know of anyone who has had to repay a Centrelink debt? How did it work for them?
Were they able to repay the debt? Was the debt correctly calculated?
The Not My Debt website has collected many cases of people who have had problems with Centrelink.
What do you think of these cases? Do you know of any similar ones?
Did the system work well? Was it fair?
Do you know of anyone who may need assistance in dealing with a Centrelink debt?
How could you help?