ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Centrelink ‘Robo-Debt’

This program is wrong and must stop

The ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) has raised its deep concerns in the media and with government about Centrelink’s new automated debt collection system in which 20,000 people per week are sent letters asking them to confirm details of wages they received up to six years ago. ACOSS is calling for the immediate suspension of the program and for it to be independently reviewed.

ACTCOSS believes this program is wrong and must stop. It is creating errors and compromises the emotional and financial wellbeing of thousands of people. It inappropriately puts all the risks of the flawed debt recovery approach on the shoulders of people who have received income support, many of whom live with significant vulnerability and face barriers to asserting their rights in complex, intimidating systems. 

We support the purpose of ensuring that people receive the right payments but the process is needlessly causing anxiety among people who have done the right thing and reported their earnings. Overpayments are being raised and people are being asked to repay ‘debt’ without the proper checks to make sure that money is actually owed.

The income support system is very complex and it is hard for people to recall how and when they were paid by employers years ago. We advise people who are asked to provide information to Centrelink online about their past income to take care to check your income details first before completing this form, as your response may determine whether or not a debt is raised.

Tell us your stories

We want to hear your stories for our advocacy work – if you are affected or know of people or organisations who are experiencing additional strain due to the debt recovery, please drop us a line at [email protected].

Have your say: Senate Inquiry into Centrelink automated debt recovery

The Federal Parliament has established a Senate Inquiry into the Centrelink automated debt recovery program (widely known as 'robo debt').

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs established the Design, scope, cost-benefit analysis, contracts awarded and implementation associated with the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative.

Committee terms of reference focus on a number of issues including:

  • the impact of Government automated debt collection processes upon the aged, families with young children, students, people with disability and jobseekers and any others affected by the process
  • the administration and management of customers’ records by Centrelink, including provision of information by Centrelink to customers receiving multiple payments
  • the capacity of the Department of Human Services and Centrelink services, including online, IT, telephone services and service centres to cope with levels of demand related to the implementation of the program
  • the adequacy of Centrelink complaint and review processes, including advice or direction given to Centrelink staff regarding the management of customer queries or complaints.

Make a submission or contact the Standing Committee Secretariat on 02 6277 3515 for more information.

Your personal information does not have to be made public; you can choose to suppress your personal information, or make your submission confidential.

Submissions to the Inquiry are due Wednesday 22 March 2017.

What to do if you are affected by robo-debt

If you are affected by the debt recovery program, are worried about a letter from Centrelink, don’t know how to respond, or believe a debt has been wrongly raised, there are number of things you can do.

Unfortunately ACTCOSS is not able to help people in individual cases, but you can contact the following for help.

Information & support

  • National Welfare Rights Network – A network of community legal centres throughout Australia which specialise in social security law. This service is free.
  • Legal Aid Commissions – Your local legal aid commission can give you information and advice.
  • Your local community legal centre – Provides legal information and advice. Most services are free.
  • Commonwealth Ombudsman – Assists the public by investigating and resolving complaints about government departments and agencies (and has launched an investigation into the automated debt recovery system).
  • Lifeline 13 11 14 – A national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

Online tool for fighting debts

GetUp have an online tool that can help people campaign and fight individual debts. ACTCOSS suggests that you can use GetUp’s tool to send a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to Centrelink to request more information on for your individual debt recovery case. It also sends a complaint to the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, and asks your Local MP for assistance. Use the tool: Fraudstop by GetUp

Tell your Local Member of Federal Parliament

ACTCOSS suggests that you directly contact your Local Member of Federal Parliament to let them know how this has affected you.

Share your stories online

You can post your experiences with the new system on Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #notmydebt (which is independent of ACTCOSS).

You can also post your stories on the NotMyDebt website.