Government must cancel robodebts and boost Centrelink staffing

27 March 2020

After revelations today that the government reportedly owes 450,000 people more than half a billion dollars in false robodebts, ACOSS calls on the government to immediately cancel all robodebts and refund the money plus interest.

For the first time, we have an understanding of what government wrongfully collected under robodebt. It appears that government must repay about 70% of what it has collected, having received $785m as at August 2019.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said:

“These are damning revelations, and we urge the Federal Government to immediately repay what it owes to people across Australia.

“Many of these people are applying for income support or were already receiving income support. They are in desperate circumstances and should never have been charged with a false debt.

“As we know, there is unprecedented demand for Centrelink. Centrelink staff should not be tasked with administering robodebt, especially when people cannot get through to someone on the phone to access essential income support.

“Robodebt should never have seen the light of day. It must be immediately shut down and all false debts repaid.

Charmaine Crowe, ACOSS Senior Advisor Social Security said:

“We are deeply disturbed to hear reports of government chasing people about robodebt at a time of mass job loss, and unprecedented demand for Centrelink.

“It is also troubling that an estimated 70% of what the government has collected in debts was unlawful. This is a monumental failure in public administration.

“Robodebt has caused so much distress and heartache in our community. The least the government can do now is ensure people are repaid as soon as possible.

“In addition to cancelling robodebt, ACOSS calls for Centrelink staffing to be boosted by 15,000. While 5,000 extra staff is welcome, it will not meet demand, especially if one million people lose their jobs.

Earlier this week ACOSS wrote to Minister Stuart Robert and Minister Anne Ruston calling for the following:

  • An additional 10,000 permanent Centrelink staff in addition to the 5,000 already announced to meet demand
  • A hotline for people to call to access income support
  • A broad communication campaign to advise people on what they need to do to access income support
  • Suspension of mutual obligation requirements during the coronavirus crisis
  • Allow online identification to speed up claims process