The Federal Court has been told that Centrelink has wiped the debt at the centre of a second test case against its robo-debt scheme. The case will go to a hearing in early December.
Our client, Deanna Amato has been told her robo-debt of $2754 had been wiped, after a recalculation process found the true overpayment to be just $1.48.
‘I'm happy that I don't have a big debt looming over me anymore, but on the other hand, I'm stunned that it was recalculated so easily after I took legal action’, said Deanna.
‘Centrelink will make you jump through hoops to prove your innocence, but it turns out they were capable of finding out if my reporting was correct and that I didn't owe them anything like what the robo-debt claimed I owed. It makes me question the system even more’, she said.
The 33-year-old local government employee says Centrelink has refunded her over $1700, after they took her full tax return earlier this year. At the time, she had never spoken to anyone from Centrelink about the supposed debt.
‘It was scary when Centrelink took my tax return out of the blue. I had no idea what my rights were, or if Centrelink even had this kind of power over my money, so I turned to legal aid for advice.
‘Now that they have wiped the debts of both Victoria Legal Aid cases, it makes me wonder how many people have paid supposed debts that were completely inaccurate. I hate to think of more people suffering because of incorrect calculations.
People may be handing over money they don't even owe, because they're too afraid, or don't have the means, to challenge them. That's why I think the system needs to change’ said Deanna.
Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid said our legal challenges to the scheme continued – ‘We cannot accept a system that is so clearly flawed and causing overwhelming hardship to the most disadvantaged people in our community.’
‘We are contacted every day by people who are feeling overwhelmed by this system that puts the onus on them to disprove debts. It is important that a court looks at the lawfulness of the process Centrelink relies on to decide that people owe them money’. said Rowan.
Deanna says she is keen to have the court look at the decisions that led to the debt being raised. ‘It turns out, when I was receiving Centrelink assistance, I reported my income, yet they still were able to raise a debt of almost $3000 and take my tax return. The fact that Centrelink wiped my robo-debt, does not change my feelings about this court case going ahead. The robo-debt process needs to be seriously examined,’ she said.
‘If I hadn't taken this legal action, I don't think Centrelink would have ever realised the problem with my so called ‘debt’, Deanna said.
Deanna Amato’s case will go to a hearing in December with our first client Madeleine Masterton’s to be scheduled for hearing after that case is determined.
Rowan McRae is available for comment. Our client Deanna Amato is not available for interview.
Reviewed 14 April 2022