Finance Welfare Federal government to clear all Centrelink robo-debts, refund money

Federal government to clear all Centrelink robo-debts, refund money

The Federal Government has announced it will wipe out all debts. Photo: ABC News
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More than $720 million raised through the Morrison government’s controversial robo-debt program will be refunded.

About 470,000 debts were raised through the defunct welfare scheme, which is now the subject of a class action challenge.

“Services Australia will now put in place the mechanisms needed to start making refunds, including how affected customers are advised of next steps,” Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said on Friday.

“Consultation will occur with stakeholders, including the commonwealth ombudsman, and clear communication is a priority, so people understand what it means for them.”

Interest payments and recovery fees will also be refunded. Payments to 373,000 people will be made from July 1.

Mr Robert said Friday’s announcement was a “refinement” of Centrelink’s debt recovery programs.

“The government started this program over half a decade ago based on the best information at the time,” he said.

The information presented to me saw a change in November. I acted swiftly on behalf of the government to pause debt recovery and to refine the system. So again, we’re moving forward of the best information we have.”

The controversial system was ruled unlawful in 2019, with the Federal Court saying Centrelink could not have been satisfied the debt was correct.

The government wound back the scheme prior to the court decision.

The scheme matched Australian Tax Office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

People were automatically contacted if Centrelink thought they might owe more than $1000.

One in five debt letters sent were based on false information.

The previous Labor government introduced a similar process in 2011 but had each case reviewed by a staff member at the Department of Human Services, while the coalition moved to a fully-automated system in 2016.

-with AAP