Published: 07 October 2019
Author: Dan McGlade

Is robodebt scheme a scam?

Centrelink is preying on the most vulnerable Australians and I urge local people to wise up to current unsubstantiated robodebt tactics.

When Renate Westenberger received a notice from Centrelink in February 2018 advising her she owed Centrelink $3,816.26 for benefits Centrelink claimed had been overpaid to her in the period August 2012 to March 2013, she was both confused and surprised.

As a nurse with more than 20 years’ experience, Renate had received Centrelink benefits at various times. This included when she was unable to work due to injury or illness or when she was not working full time and had always been particular about reporting any earnings to Centrelink. Renate contacted Centrelink seeking an explanation for the amount claimed and asked why it had taken Centrelink almost six years to notify her.

When Renate failed to receive a reply, she contacted RCT Ballarat and I wrote to Centrelink on 30 May 2018 requesting details of the amount claimed. Centrelink failed to respond to my request, and I wrote to Centrelink on two further occasions, again with no reply.

Harrassment and intimidation

In the meantime, Centrelink pursued Renate for the funds and she commenced paying the amount claimed by instalments deducted from her fortnightly pension payments. When she recently received a lump sum compensation payment, she paid the balance of the amount claimed by Centrelink.

Renate said she had had enough. She felt harassed and intimidated by Centrelink and they wore her down and she gave up.

When I heard this update, I wasn’t impressed and I feel compelled to warn others, especially when it has been claimed that robodebt is so inaccurate and malfunctioning that at least one-fifth of these claimed debts are totally wrong.

Centrelink has ignored Renate’s repeated requests for a breakdown of the amount claimed and has pressured her into paying it without proving a debt or giving her sufficient information so she could challenge it.

Of course, my client is not alone here, thousands of social welfare recipients have been subject to the same strong-arm robodebt tactics without Centrelink substantiating the amount claimed.

The Centrelink robodebt scheme is just like those anonymous scammers who make phone calls claiming a debt owed to the Australian Tax Office and threatening prosecution. Centrelink is preying on people’s vulnerability and the knowledge that most people won’t have the means or resources to challenge the decision and will just give in and pay up.

This is intimidation and bullying at its worst and it’s as simple as that. We should expect a lot more from a government agency and Centrelink needs to be held to account. All my client wants is an explanation from Centrelink for the amount.

Categories Centrelink, Government

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