Robodebt Class Action

The Robodebt Class Action argues that the Commonwealth Government has taken money from Centrelink recipients unjustly.

The essence of the Robodebt Class Action against the Commonwealth is that the Robodebt Scheme is unlawful. The Robodebt Class Action argues that it is unlawful for Centrelink to pursue recipients of benefits for debts calculated on the basis of the information obtained through the averaging process. The Robodebt Class Action also argues that where false debts have been raised against people, they should be compensated.

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.

Our current view is that people with a claim of the kind broadly described above should pursue their rights by participating in the Class Action.

Unless Centrelink provides a satisfactory response to the claims made in the proceeding, instituted by the representative applicants, who are bringing the claim on their own behalf and on behalf of all group members, we will ask the Federal Court to determine the claims as soon as possible. 

If you have received a Debt Notice and as a result, you paid money to Centrelink or had money taken from your Centrelink benefits, tax return or wages, you are invited to Register your interest.

What is the Robodebt Class Action about?

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.

AND

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;

AND

  • 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.

What is a Class Action?

A Class or Group Action is a Court procedure which allows people with similar claims against another party to bring their action in one Court Proceeding rather than requiring them to go to the cost (and take the individual risk) of commencing their own claim.

In Australia, the law provides individual Group or Class members the opportunity to Opt Out of the Proceedings if they do not wish to participate or wish to bring their own individual claim.

The benefit of Class or Group Actions is that it means that claims that would otherwise not be economically viable for a person to bring on their own behalf are able to be gathered together so that the costs and risks can be shared among a larger group of people with similar claims.

What are the risks of participating in a Class Action?

The risks of participating in a Class Action are similar to the risks that any person bringing an individual claim would face, except that the risk of having to pay the other party’s legal costs if the claim is unsuccessful only falls on the Representative Plaintiff or Applicant.

It is important to understand that you do not face the individual risk of an adverse costs order unless you agree to become the Representative Plaintiff or Applicant. If that was the case then your lawyer will discuss those risks with you very carefully before you agreed to act as the Representative Plaintiff or Applicant.

What should I do now?

We recommend that you Register your interest to obtain more information and consider whether you wish to engage Gordon Legal to act on your behalf if a Class or Group Action is commenced.

By Registering your interest, you are not doing anything which will force you to engage Gordon Legal to act for you, participate in a claim or Court Proceeding or take any step without your further instructions.

By Registering your interest now, you will assist us in better understanding all the dimensions of the impact of the Robodebt Scheme and in turn this will assist us in finally assessing whether a Class or Group Action should be commenced.

Why should I choose Gordon Legal?

The team at Gordon Legal has had extensive experience in landmark class action cases, including:

  • Group action claimants against the Commonwealth of Australia and State Government;
  • On behalf of Asbestos-related cancer sufferers;
  • On behalf of Thalidomide sufferers; and
  • On behalf of those impacted by contaminated blood supplies leading to HIV/AIDS

Our founder, Peter Gordon, brought the first successful group actions on behalf of victims of asbestos-related diseases. He has also acted on behalf of victims of sexual abuse at the hands of members of the Christian Brothers, victims of Big Tobacco, and sufferers of medically-acquired HIV.

Our decades of experience and our determination to bring and win hard cases underpins our commitment to providing access to the legal system. By grouping small connected claims together, we are able to spread out the cost of litigation, which makes it more affordable for our clients.

If you have been affected by a Debt Notice, you are invited to contact us about the Robodebt Class Action by filling in the contact form below.

Register your interest

To register your interest please fill out the form below.

We would be grateful if you could use the on-line Registration process rather than calling our office for assistance in the first instance. The Robodebt Registration form contains all of the information that we need from you at this stage. If we need more information from you, we will contact you directly.

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Thank you for taking the time to contact us.
We will be in touch with you within 5 business days.

In the meantime we would be grateful if you would refrain from calling our office to follow up on your Registration of Interest.
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If I register my interest – what happens next?

Once you Register your interest we will acknowledge your registration details and provide you with further information. In some circumstances we may contact you by telephone or email you to obtain further information from you or clarify the information you have already provided.

As you may appreciate we are receiving a large number of enquiries about the Robodebt Scheme so it may take several days before we are able to contact you to acknowledge your Registration of Interest or provide further information to you.

We will be in contact. In the meantime we would be grateful if you would refrain from calling our office to follow up on your Registration of Interest.

If you do require some assistance or information in the meantime please email us at: robodebt@gordonlegal.com.au

We will do our best to come back to you within 5 business days of receiving your email request.
Email address to send the form to: robodebt@gordonlegal.com.au

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