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Government Rejects Robo-Debt Inquiry Findings

Monday, October 30, 2017 - Posted by Michael McCulloch

Following the inquiry into the "robo-debt" program the Australian Government is refusing to suspend the system while at the same time sending letters to those already impacted, adivsing them that they can ask for their debt to be reviewed.

In June 2017 both the Labor and Greens argued that the system should be put on hold until the system could be drastically overhauled with the Commonwealth Ombudsman initially indicating that approximately 20% of debts issued did not need to be paid back. Those who wanted to challenge the debt have claimed that they had difficulty in contacting Centrelink with the agency reporting that they missed 42 million calls in the last financial year (around 140,000 calls per day).

In a response to the inquiry, which was released on 10/10/17 the Government said it acknowledged that there had been "communication issues" with the robo-debt system that "gave rise to potential confusion on the part of some recipients". A spokesperson for the Government went on to say, "There is no evidence to support the recommendation to put on hold the online system. The government's clear position ... is that it is appropriate to ask people for information when there are differences between their income details held by the Department of Human Services and other third parties such as the Australian Taxation Office."

Greens Senator, Rachel Stewart, who served on the committee, said in a statement, "The people who gave evidence at the inquiry were vulnerable people, whose data had been automatically matched without oversight; people who had been harassed by debt collectors days before Christmas; people living below the poverty line wrongly told they only had a number of weeks to pay back thousands of dollars. We know that this debt collection process impacted on the mental health of many people. This government response shows a government deeply out of touch with people dependent on our social safety net."

The Government have since indicated that those that received an initial letter will now get a further letter advising of the debt and reminding them of their review rights before being contacted by a debt collector, employed by the Department of Human Services, who will also remind them of their review rights.

Source: BuzzFeedNews - October 2017

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