Robo-Debt Class Action

[Refund announcement]

On 31 May, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert announced that Services Australia (formerly the Department of Human Services) has identified 470,000 debts raised wholly or partially using income averaging of ATO data, to pre-empt in part the impending class action launched by thousands of Australians against the Government.

Refunding of these debts will commence in July and will continue through the 2020-21 financial year. The total value of refunds including fees and charges is estimated at $721 million.

Labor believes that it is unfair for the Government to wait until later this year or next year to pay back Robodebts that unlawfully clawed money from innocent Australians, when it knew the scheme was legally unsound from at least as early as November 2019.

If you are a Group Member or registrant in the class action, you may be entitled to compensation in addition to a refund.

[Opt-out notice]

The Federal Government is sending letters to hundreds of thousands of Australians who are identified as Group Members in a class action initiated by Gordon Legal against the Commonwealth.

The class action was launched by Gordon Legal in November 2019, arguing that the Commonwealth Government unjustly enriched itself by issuing more than 600,000 debts to social security recipients using faulty evidence from the Australian Taxation Office. It also claims that the Commonwealth negligently breached its duty of care owed to people.  

If you would like to remain a member of the class action, you do not need to take any action. As the letter outlines, you may be entitled to compensation as a Group Member.

You will not be disadvantaged if you do not ‘opt-out’.

For more information on the class action, contact Gordon Legal on 1300 59 95 17 or visit https://gordonlegal.com.au/robodebt-class-action/.

 [Child Care Supplement debt]

I agree that the Child Care Subsidy debt process is frequently very poorly handled by Centrelink and lacks transparency.

Although these debts are not considered ‘Robodebts’ and are excluded from the Gordon Legal class action, recent evidence provided in the Senate by the Department of Education has confirmed that so far more than 117,513 families across Australia have been accused by the Morrison Government of having a child care debt. That’s 16 per cent of all families who are in the system being hit with a child care debt notice, which contains no detail as to how or why the debt was calculated, making verification impossible.

The Government advised the Senate recently they have so far raised more than $109.5 million from Australian families from this secretive process, and there are still more than half of reconciliations to complete.

This is, of course, incredibly concerning and stressful for families, many of whom tried to do the right thing by regularly updating their income and activity levels as demanded by the government’s onerous and confusing new rules. Families are spending hours of their time on hold to Centrelink, with some families being told their debt was calculated in error due to IT glitches.

This is completely unacceptable behaviour from the Morrison Government. It is now clear that their new child care system is not working in the interests of families or providers. The government needs to urgently consider what changes need to be made.

I have been advising families to not give the government the benefit of the doubt on these debts and to challenge their debt notices.

I will continue to call on the Morrison Government to urgently consider making changes to the system to put the interests of children and families first.

[General lines]

Labor called on the Liberals to scrap this harsh and inaccurate Robodebt scheme since it was first announced in 2015.

It is wrong for the Government to treat everyday Australians like criminals on the basis of dubious accounting, using cruel and inefficient tactics, and forcing people to prove facts about their income from up to a decade ago.

 In November 2019 the Federal Court decided in a court case brought by Victoria Legal Aid against the commonwealth the Government had no legal basis in the Social Security Law to raise Robodebts.

Billions of dollars may have been unlawfully taken from innocent Australians while the Government used the money to prop up an imaginary budget surplus.

In response to the Federal Court ruling, the Morrison Government suspended the scheme by announcing it would no longer use faulty income averaging and a reverse onus of proof to raise social security debts.

Now the Government is hiding behind a Public Interest Immunity Claim to avoid answering questions in Parliament about Robdebt, to try and cover up their scandal.

Australians deserve to know who will be affected by the changes, whether people will be compensated for the Government’s mistake and when. The public needs to know, once and for all if the Government has scrapped Robodebt – and why they designed the scheme so poorly in the first place.

Labor will continue to fight for justice on Robodebt by raising it with the Government and the Minister for Government Services, the Hon Stuart Robert MP and through Parliamentary inquiries and procedures. If you wish to raise your concern with the Minister directly, I would also encourage you to contact the Minister’s office on 02 6277 7200, or by emailing [email protected]. Alternatively, you can write to the Minister at the following address:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for the Disability Insurance Scheme
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

It is also possible to raise a complaint with the Department directly, either by visiting the Centrelink website complaints page https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/contact-us/complaints-and-feedback or by dropping a written copy to any Centrelink office or posting a complaint to:

Centrelink and Medicare
DHS Complaints and Feedback
Reply Paid 7800
Canberra BC ACT 2610

If you send a letter to the Minister or to the Department, please provide me with a copy of your correspondence.

Labor will continue to hold the Liberals to account to make sure that Centrelink is properly managed, funded, and staffed and provides the customer service and support that Australians deserve.


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