Centrelink is continuing to chase welfare recipients over potential social security debts, including robodebts, as the government announces a second stimulus package that is expected to place more cash into the hands of low-income Australians, The Guardian reports.
Although the agency stopped initiating reviews in December under its online compliance – or robodebt – program after settling a federal court challenge, it confirmed that it had not halted its broader debt recovery activities, as has occurred in previous crises.
Services Australia said people could apply for “flexibility” in repayments if they were suffering hardship.
Guardian Australia has spoken to two people who were contacted by Centrelink last week over unfinalised robodebt reviews, including a laid-off worker who was contacted by the debt recovery team about a debt on the same day she enquired about an application for Newstart, which has been renamed JobSeeker.
The government faces growing pressure to suspend mutual obligations for welfare recipients during the coronavirus crisis after Labor joined calls for face-to-face interviews and other compulsory activities to be paused.
The government most recently suspended mutual obligations during the bushfire crisis. Guardian Australia has reported concerns from welfare recipients – including those who are immunocompromised or exhibiting flu-like symptoms – being forced to attend appointments.
Centrelink denied there was a link between income support claims and the agency attempting to finalise existing debt reviews under its online income compliance program, infamously labelled robodebt, which is the subject of a federal court challenge.