A Centrelink client is taking the government to court over the controversial ‘robo-debt’ system, with the government facing calls to suspend the framework during the process, Ten Daily reports.
Victoria Legal Aid filed papers in the Federal Court last week argued Centrelink’s automated debt-recovery system is unlawful.
“It’s clear robo-debt is deeply flawed and continues to cause people distress and hardship,” said VLA’s executive director of Civil Justice, Access and Equity Rowan McRae.
“We want this case to pave the way for a fairer, smarter and more accurate system which works for government, but also for the many people who access social security at some point in their life.”
Previously, compliance teams would check for social security overpayments by manually examining differences in tax and Centrelink records. The newer, automated system calculates a person’s fortnightly pay, averages it out for the year, and then sends letters to welfare recipients if it detects an imbalance.
It puts the onus of proof on the individual, and when people can’t or don’t provide detailed evidence about their previous income, the system assumes a debt exists — and sends in the debt collectors.
The “crude calculations” used by Centrelink to ascertain debt falls short of what the law requires, VLA will argue in court, and do not provide a basis for assessing what a person actually earned or whether they were overpaid.
More than 44,000 of 409,000 debts raised by Centrelink in a 15-month period since July 2016 were reduced or cleared when challenged, a Senate committee found.
The legal challenge is focused on the case of Melbourne nurse Madeleine Masterton, who received a letter alleging a debt of $4000 incurred when she was receiving Youth Allowance as a student.
“At the time, I was given no information about how my debt was calculated,” she said.
“We want this case to pave the way for a fairer, smarter and more accurate system which works for government, but also for the many people who access social security at some point in their life,” said Rowan McRae, the executive of Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid, The Guardian says.
“The way robodebt averages people’s income assumes that they work neat, regular hours throughout a year. In reality, we know people work part time or sporadically throughout the year, because they’re studying, can’t get regular work, have multiple jobs or are unwell. This means the calculation of alleged ‘overpayments’ is often inaccurate.”
An initial hearing in VLA’s legal case is expected to take place in weeks.
Centrelink cancels 40,000 robodebts, new figures reveal (The Guardian)