Call to suspend Centrelink automated debt recovery system and how to get legal help

Call to suspend Centrelink automated debt recovery system and how to get legal help

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

We have called on the government to suspend Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system. We have also published information about the legal steps people can take to respond to a debt recovery letter that they think is wrong.

Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system has seen many Victorians receive inaccurate debt notices.

Acting Executive Director Civil Justice, Access and Equity Joel Townsend said: ‘We are calling on the government to suspend the system until it can comply with legal requirements, principles of good governance and decision-making, and fairness.

‘Until this happens, we want people to understand the options available to them when they get a debt notice they don’t agree with,’ Mr Townsend said.

‘As a first step, you can contact Centrelink and ask for one of their authorised review officers (AROs) to review your debt.

‘This step involves a senior Centrelink officer who has not previously dealt with your matter taking a fresh look at the decision.

‘You can also ask Centrelink to suspend debt repayments while the review is taking place. If they don’t agree to do this, you can also ask the review officer to reconsider that decision. You can also make a complaint if Centrelink refuses to do this,’ he said.

Further options are also available if you are not happy with the decision of the Authorised Review Officer. 

‘There are, however, time limits on applying to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, so if you are thinking of taking the review officer’s decision further, you should get legal advice as soon as possible,’ he said.

Our information at www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/centrelinklegalhelp covers:

  • what to do if Centrelink asks you to confirm your employment status
  • how to seek a review of Centrelink’s decision
  • how to appeal a Centrelink decision through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal
  • what happens if you don’t pay the debt when it is due
  • how to make a complaint about Centrelink
  • how Centrelink’s automated compliance system works.

Victoria Legal Aid says the automated debt recovery system has translated to:

  • a more than 500 per cent increase in the number of visits to Centrelink information on its website since Christmas
  • a 300 per cent jump in information sessions provided through its free Legal Help telephone service compared with January last year.  

‘This online information is about providing more help to more people,’ Mr Townsend said. ‘It is useable on any device, meets disability access standards and will be kept up-to-date.’

How we can help

Find out how you can Get help with Centrelink's automated debts.