Following the commencement of the Robodebt Class Action in November 2019, on 29 May 2020 (the “May Announcement”) the Commonwealth announced a significant change in its position. In its May Announcement the Government accepted that many debts raised under the Robodebt System were unlawful and, consequently, that it would refund 470,000 debts to 373,000 people. As a result, refunds of those amounts have been made to most but not all of the 373,000 group members to whom the announcement was relevant.
The Commonwealth has or will pay refunds to those people whose debts were calculated either wholly or partially on the basis of averaged ATO income data. This means that if your debt was calculated wholly on the basis of other information – such as payslips or bank statements – your debt will not be refunded.
If you are not due for a refund, this may be because the Commonwealth has not accepted that your debt or debts were calculated either wholly or partially on the basis of averaged ATO income data.
We understand that the Commonwealth has now paid almost all refunds. As a result of the settlement achieved in the Robodebt Class Action on 16 November 2020, all Group Members who are eligible for a refund will also receive an additional settlement payment.
Only Group Members who had debts calculated as a result of Centrelink using ATO income averaging are entitled to refunds on any amounts already paid.
Gordon Legal does not have access to information about whether or not you are eligible for a refund. However, you can check whether you are eligible on MyGov, by following these steps:
If you are eligible for a refund but have not yet received it, you may need to provide Centrelink with updated bank account details so that they can process the payment.
The Government has announced that they will commence paying back a small number of refunds from early-July 2020. The government will then refund the remaining debts from late-July onwards. Most debts can expect to be refunded by the end of November 2020.
The refund will include the repayment of any money paid towards a Robodebt as well as interest charged on the debt.
The Government has confirmed that if your refund is a large amount, this will be paid back to you in instalments.
You can check if you are eligible for a refund by:
If your debt was one that has been refunded or withdrawn because it was calculated as a result of invalid income averaging, your tax return will not be garnisheed as repayment for that debt. If your debt is still owed to Centrelink, recovery actions, including garnisheeing your tax return, may be taken against you in the future.
Centrelink has paused most debt recovery activity until February 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
If Centrelink has confirmed that your debt has been paused but money is being taken out of your account for recovery, you should contact Centrelink directly. We do not have your personal details that would allow us to confirm if and/ or why your debt is still being recovered. If your debt is being recovered, you should call Centrelink’s Income Compliance team on 1800 171 846.
Centrelink has confirmed that the refund you receive will not be taxed and no further action is required from you in relation to your tax return.
We understand that Centrelink has paid refunds to almost all eligible group members. A small number of group members have not yet received refunds because Centrelink do not have their current bank account details and have been unable to get in contact with them.
To update your details with Centrelink, you will need to:
Your refund will be paid to you within 5 business days of completing the ‘Refund pending’ task. Once your refund has been paid, Centrelink will send you a follow-up letter to confirm the refund amount and the details of the debt/s that were refunded.
The Representative Applicants and the Commonwealth reached a settlement agreement on 16 November 2020. This means that, subject to the Court approving the settlement, the claims made in the Robodebt Class Action have now been resolved and no trial will occur.
For more information about the settlement, please visit the settlement FAQ page.
A trial date has been set for 21 September 2020 and is estimated to be heard over three weeks.
A judgement may be delivered by the end of this year, or early next year however, this is up to the judge hearing the case. If you have registered with us, we will keep you updated on any new information on the case as it arises.
We understand that you may have been told by Centrelink to contact Gordon Legal. While we can provide you with information about the Robodebt Class Action, if you want information that is specifically about your debt or other Centrelink issues, we cannot help with this. This is because we do not have any information about your Centrelink affairs. We understand that this is frustrating, but you will need to speak to Centrelink about your matter.
While Centrelink cannot advise you to opt in or opt out of the class action, they have an obligation to provide information about your individual circumstances. This includes whether you are a group member as well as information about your specific debt. It is important that Centrelink gives you the assistance and information you require, even if you are involved with the class action
If you have called Centrelink to discuss your debt and they instruct you to contact Gordon Legal, you may advise that you are not calling about the class action but about your debt. If Centrelink refuses to discuss your matter, you should obtain the Centrelink staff member’s name and serial number (or receipt number) and forward this information to [email protected]
We recommend that you contact Centrelink’s compliance refund line on 1800 171 846 if you require assistance.
If you have received an email or letter from Centrelink since 4 May 2020, enclosing a document entitled “Opt Out Notice – Federal Court of Australia – ‘Robodebt’ (Social Security Debt Collection) Class Action (VID1252/2019)” (the “Group Member Notice”) then it is safe for you to assume that you are a Group Member. For reference, a copy of the Group Member Notice can be viewed here.
Centrelink debts arise for a variety of reasons, and not every debt is a Robodebt. For example, if you received a debt because Centrelink decided that you were not eligible for the payment you were receiving, this is not a Robodebt and you will not be a Group Member.
Eligibility to be a Group Member is determined by the 3-point definition below. In fact, anyone who meets this definition – even if they do not know about the class action – is a Group Member and is entitled to benefit from any successful outcome secured by the class action. Again, if you have received a MyGov message or letter from Centrelink enclosing the Group Member Notice, you can assume that you are a Group Member.
If you haven’t received a MyGov message or letter from Centrelink since 4 May 2020 enclosing the Group Member Notice you may still be a Group Member if you fit the definition below.
You are a group member if:
If you were issued a debt that was initially either partly or wholly raised using income averaging but was later recalculated based on information you provided and you have paid part or all of that debt back, you meet the definition of a group member.
No. The final day for opting out of the Robodebt Class Action was 29 June 2020. In any case, our advice is that it is in your best interests to remain a Group Member in the Robodebt Class Action because:
All Group Members who did not opt out will be bound by the settlement agreement reached on 16 November 2020 between the Representative Applicants and the Commonwealth, so long as it is approved by the Court.
Yes. We believe that it is in your interest to register with us so that we are able to provide you with legal advice about your individual circumstances, and provide you with updates about the settlement that was reached on 16 November 2020. You do not need to register with us in order to remain a Group Member or participate in the class action. If you register with Gordon Legal your information will remain confidential and will not be used for any purpose other than in order to pursue your claim against Centrelink, without your written consent.
By registering with Gordon Legal you will not incur any legal costs unless the Court orders that you contribute to legal costs, which it may do whether or not you register with Gordon Legal if you benefit from the class action.
Robodebts are a type of Centrelink debt that the Representative Applicants in the class action are arguing are unlawful. Centrelink has been raising Robodebts since approximately April 2015 and information released by the Commonwealth indicates that at least 600,000 Robodebts have been raised since the system was put in place.
A Robodebt is raised after Centrelink conducts a reassessment of a recipient’s entitlements to social security payments (this could be for a period as far back as seven years) and decides that the recipient was overpaid. Ordinarily, in conducting this reassessment Centrelink sends letters or other correspondence asking that the recipient “check”, “confirm” or “update” their past income information.
The key element of a Robodebt is the evidence used by Centrelink to calculate the overpayment and establish that a debt is owed. Robodebts are calculated by Centrelink applying averaged ATO PAYG income data across either part or all of the fortnights in which the recipient received payments and treating those averaged amounts as the recipient’s actual earnings in the relevant debt period. Therefore, the Robodebt system ignores what the person actually earned at the relevant time.
Robodebts are unlawful because the amount of social security payments a person is entitled to is based on how much the person actually earned when receiving payments – not the averaged ATO amounts. Because of this flaw, our clients argue that Centrelink has no lawful basis for raising a Robodebt. In its announcement on 29 May 2020, the Commonwealth admitted that the Robodebts it raised in this way are invalid.
The following examples provide a rough guide to what is and what is not a Robodebt.
We were instructed to launch the Robodebt Class Action because of concerns that the Commonwealth of Australia raised unlawful debts against hundreds of thousands of Centrelink recipients through the Robodebt system.
The Robodebt Class Action is a vehicle to help those people who have received Robodebts by pursuing compensation for their losses, including the money that they paid towards Robodebts (or had taken from them) and the distress and inconvenience that they experienced along the way.
From a legal perspective, the Robodebt Class Action argues that the Commonwealth has been unjustly enriched because of Centrelink’s operation of the Robodebt system. It also argues that the Commonwealth was negligent in breaching its duty of care to Centrelink recipients who had unlawful debts raised against them.
Before the Robodebt Class Action began, the Federal Court of Australia made orders which said that Centrelink had raised an unlawful Robodebt against one Centrelink recipient, Ms Deanna Amato. While this decision was important, it applied only to Ms. Amato The Robodebt Class Action is designed to assist the whole class of people who have been affected.
Because this proceeding is a class action, it is brought by a group of Representative Applicants on behalf of all of the other people affected. On 16 November 2020 the Representative Applicants reached a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth which provides that most Group Members will receive a refund of the amount they paid towards their Robodebt, plus an additional settlement payment. For more information about the settlement, please visit the settlement FAQ page.
A settlement agreement was reached between the Representative Applicants and the Commonwealth on 16 November 2020. The settlement must be approved by the Court before it comes into effect.
For more information about the settlement, please visit the settlement FAQ page.
Yes. There is no reason why participating in the Robodebt Class Action as a Group Member would impact your eligibility to receive Centrelink payments. Centrelink is not entitled to take any action against you, such as blocking your access to payments, because you are a group member or decide to register with Gordon Legal.
You may like to make an FOI request to Centrelink so that you can access the documents and information that Centrelink hold in relation to your debt.
Follow these instructions to make an FOI request to Centrelink
Before you begin, you need the following two forms:
Ordinarily, Centrelink have 30 days to fulfil an FOI request. However, due to the increased stress on Centrelink’s services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is possible that they will take up to 60 days to fulfil your request. If Centrelink asks for more time to comply with your request, we recommend that you agree.
Registrations are still open for the Robodebt Class Action.
If you have another issue with Centrelink that is not about a Robodebt, we recommend that you consult the social security rights legal service operating in your state. Social security legal services provide free assistance over the phone to people who have issues with Centrelink payments, debts, and other problems. To find your relevant service, refer to the Economic Justice Australia webpage: http://ejaustralia.org.au/legal-help-centrelink/. Select your state here ACT NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA
Details for the Victorian, Queensland and NSW services are listed here:
If your debt is not one that is eligible for a refund because it was not calculated by the invalid income averaging method, it may still have other errors that Centrelink can investigate in an internal review. This may lead to the debt amount being changed.
If you request an internal review, we recommend asking that an Authorised Review Officer conduct the review. This can be done in the following ways:
If an ARO reviews your debt and you still think the debt is wrong, you can review the debt at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
If your Centrelink debt relates to one of these payments, unfortunately this means you do not fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action. This is because the Robodebt system was not applied to these payments.
For further assistance, you can contact Social Security Rights Victoria (SSRV), or the equivalent organisation in your state or territory.
SSRV is an independent state-wide community legal centre that specialises in social security and related law and policy. SSRV’s contact details are as follows:
If you are based outside Victoria, please refer to the Economic Justice Australia webpage to locate your nearest social security rights legal centre: http://ejaustralia.org.au/legal-help-centrelink/. Select your state here ACT NSW NT QLD SA TAS VIC WA
To be a Group Member, you must have been issued with a debt notice by Centrelink after 1 April 2015. This is because the averaging system used to calculate debts, which we allege to be unlawful, was only used by Centrelink after this date.
If Centrelink have issued you with multiple debt notices, with one or more raised before April 2015, and one or more raised after April 2015, only the debt notices that were issued after April 2015 will fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.
If you have a Robodebt and you have not paid any money or had any money taken from you, you may still be a Group Member so long as you have not been told by Centrelink that it will not be taking any recovery action against you. In other words, if you have not made any payments but Centrelink still say the debt is owing, you will meet the definition of a Group Member.
If you fall into this category it is less likely that you will be entitled to monetary compensation arising from the Robodebt Class Action. You may be entitled to other types of relief to address the way Centrelink treated you. If you fall into this category, we recommend you register with Gordon Legal.
If your debt is not eligible for a refund because it was not calculated by invalid income averaging, your debt is still owing to Centrelink. However, Centrelink have paused debt repayments until at least February 2021, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. If you would like to resume your payments before then, you can do so by calling the debt recovery line on 1800 076 072.
If you are a Group Member who is eligible for a refund and an additional settlement payment under the settlement agreement achieved on 16 November 2020 (so long as the settlement is approved), your legal costs will be covered by Gordon Legal making a deduction from the overall settlement amount. The deduction will be made in accordance with the assessment of a legal costs expert and the Court’s direction as to what it is fair, reasonable and proportionate for Gordon Legal to deduct.
If you are a Group Member who is not eligible for a refund or a settlement payment, you do not have any legal costs.
For more information about the settlement, please visit the settlement FAQ page.
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