Gordon Legal is investigating whether the Commonwealth Government has taken money from Centrelink recipients unjustly. In particular whether more than 400,000 Debt Notices issued by Centrelink after 1 July 2016 lawfully entitle it to recover the amounts claimed. We are also investigating 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 on the amounts collected by Centrelink. Finally, we are investigating whether the persons affected are entitled to compensation for any distress or inconvenience caused by these events.
What we have learned so far?
We are concerned that Centrelink had no lawful basis for issuing Debt Notices in a large number of cases. It seems clear that many tens of thousands of Debt Notices were issued based on Centrelink using a method of calculation which we are concerned is fundamentally flawed.
It would appear that since July 2016 Centrelink has used an online compliance intervention (OCI) system to create and recover alleged “debt” based on a comparison between Australian Taxation Office (ATO) data and income reported by individuals receiving benefits.
This method of “averaging” individual fortnightly earnings based on the ATO information rather than determining a person’s “actual” fortnightly earnings does not appear to be a lawful method of establishing that a “debt” is due to Centrelink.
The Class Action proceedings will seek to require Centrelink to establish a lawful basis for any debt due to it to establish that it is not appropriate or reasonable for it to seek to shift the onus of doing so onto the individuals concerned. For those reasons it is our current view that Centrelink is not able to establish that it had a proper basis to issue the Debt Notices under the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act 1991 (Cth) (the Act)
Accordingly it is our current view that if a Debt Notice was issued to you after 1 July 2016 and you have repaid part or all of the amount claimed or it was deducted from your benefits, tax refund or wages, you may be entitled to have the amounts recovered by Centrelink repaid to you. We are also investigating whether other compensation flows from Centrelink’s conduct.
How can I pursue my claim to be compensated for Centrelink’s breach of its obligations to me?
You may be aware that the so-called Robodebt issue has been widely reported in the media and has been the subject of both a Parliamentary Inquiry and a report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government does not appear to accept that the Debt Notices, issued by Centrelink on its behalf are invalid and that it has an obligation to repay the money it has already collected under the Robodebt Scheme.
Unless the Commonwealth agrees to change its position then our current view is that people with a claim of the kind broadly described above should pursue their rights by commencing a Group or Class Action.