The Robodebt Class Action argues that the Commonwealth Government has taken money from Centrelink recipients unjustly. The Court is asked to determine whether the more than 570,000 debts raised issued by Centrelink after 1 July 2015 lawfully entitle it to recover the amounts claimed. The Court has also been asked to determine whether the so-called collection fees levied by Centrelink should be refunded and whether those who have repaid all or part of those amounts should be paid interest. Finally, the Court has been asked to determine whether the persons affected are entitled to compensation for any distress or inconvenience caused.
What has Centrelink done to change the Robodebt System?
On Friday 15 November Gordon Legal wrote to Centrelink notifying it that the Robodebt class action was about to be commenced. Our letter set out the basis of the claim and asked the Commonwealth to respond. We have not received any formal response to our letter.
On Monday 18 November 2019, Centrelink responded by informing Centrelink staff that from now on, it will no longer raise debts where the only information it is relying on is averaging of ATO income data. Centrelink also told its staff that it will require additional proof when using income averaging to identify alleged overpayments before raising a debt. Centrelink has also advised its staff that it will be reviewing past debts raised through the Robodebt Scheme. It is unclear what action Centrelink proposes to take as a result of the review or when the review will occur, or whether this will lead to persons who have had false debts raised against them being identified and compensated.
In our view, the changes announced by Centrelink on 18 November 2019 contain a number of important concessions. It now appears that Centrelink acknowledges, at least in some way, that:
- averages calculated from annual ATO data are not a substitute for calculating actual fortnightly earnings; and
- the onus should be on Centrelink to establish that a debt is owed, rather than recipients of welfare payments being required to prove that they were entitled to receive the benefits paid to them.
Centrelink has therefore belatedly decided to freeze the Robodebt Scheme as it currently operates.
Why the Class Action is Proceeding?
At this stage the Robodebt Class Action needs to proceed because there are a number of issues which Centrelink has not yet addressed, including the following:
- Will Centrelink immediately return the money it has taken from our clients and others affected by the unlawful Robodebt Scheme;
- Will Centrelink immediately withdraw the many thousands of debt notices it has disseminated throughout the Australian community that had no proper basis to be issued;
- Will Centrelink immediately confirm that it will compensate those impacted by the application of the Robodebt Scheme for the loss, distress and inconvenience caused to them; and
- Will Centrelink pay interest on the money taken unlawfully from people, including through garnishing their tax returns?
How do I know whether I am part of the Robodebt class action?
You are a group member of the Robodebt class action if you were in receipt of one of the following Social Security payments:
- Newstart Allowance;
- Youth Allowance;
- Disability Support Pension;
- Austudy Allowance;
- Age Pension;
- Carer Allowance;
- Parenting Payment;
- Partner Allowance;
- Sickness Allowance;
- Special Benefit;
- Widow A Allowance; and
- Widow B Pension.
If at any time after 1 July 2015:
- You received or were sent Centrelink correspondence or notification (including by postal mail, email or through ‘myGov’ or ‘Centrelink Express’) referring to a difference between the income information obtained by Centrelink from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and that used by Centrelink in assessing your Social Security Payment entitlements. That correspondence requested that you check, confirm or update employment income information; and
- The Commonwealth asserted that a debt was owed and demanded repayment of the debt;
- You have paid, or had recovered from you any Debt or part thereof (including through a payment plan, garnishing of tax return or payment of the debt in full).
Where are the Court documents?
A copy of the Originating Process and Statement of Claim filed with the Court on 19 November 2019 and served on the Commonwealth on 20 November 2019 are available here:
Originating Process Document
Statement of Claim Document
What do I need to do now?
If you would like to register your interest in the class action, please click here.
People who have already registered their interest with Gordon Legal do not need to do anything further at this stage.
If you would like to read the current most Frequently Asked Questions with regard to the Robodebt Class Action please click here.