Robo-debt should be replaced with an accurate system people can trust

Robo-debt should be replaced with an accurate system people can trust

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Letecia Luty and Ken O’Shea

Two of our clients have told a senate committee that Centrelink’s flawed robo-debt system must be stopped or drastically changed.

Letecia Luty and Ken O’Shea gave evidence at public hearings into the robo-debt system in Melbourne today.

Marketing Coordinator Letecia Luty came to us for legal assistance with a robo-debt of over $2300, which has since been reduced to just $400. She says the robo-debt scheme 'feels like a bullying system'.

'My experience with robo-debt has been confusing and unfair. Despite spending so much time trying to understand the system, I don’t have any trust in the way Centrelink comes up with robo-debts', said Letecia.

Letecia is still trying to get proof of how her debt was calculated. 'It feels like they keep putting obstacles in my path. I am grateful I got legal advice because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t know about my rights.'

'I could have paid off a debt that I did not owe. I am certain a lot of people have done this because following up with Centrelink and gathering a lot of old documents is really hard', she said.

Ken O’Shea told the committee he wasn’t able to get historical bank statements to disprove that he owes a robo-debt. He said he was now unwillingly paying it off through a payment plan.

'They take a minimum of $15 per fortnight. Every three months I have to contact Centrelink to beg for it to not be raised to $85 a fortnight,' said Ken.

'They always send me a letter in advance saying ‘We don’t expect you to pay more than you can afford’. I live on $225 a week. I have told them $15 is too much, but they say they can’t reduce it anymore.'

'Every week when I’m looking after my grandkids I feel it in the pit of my stomach when I have to say, ‘No we can’t get an ice-cream on the way home', he said.

In her opening statement to the committee Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity said 'Tens of thousands of Australians have been put through the stress, hardship and confusion of the broken robo-debt system. But we know it is the most disadvantaged people who most struggle to overcome the barriers embedded in how robo-debt operates'.

'This Senate inquiry is an opportunity to develop a way forward to ensure no one has to go through the stress of an unfair and confusing system, of scrambling to obtain documents from years ago to disprove a faulty robo-debt, or to unfairly pay off a robo-debt they do not owe'.

'We recommend that the Australian Government should stop the elements of robo-debt which are inaccurate, unfair, inaccessible and arguably unlawful. These include the averaging method, the reverse onus of proof, unfairly raising a debt where there has been no engagement with clients and barriers to clients obtaining more information or seeking a review”, she said.

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