Robodebt Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

19/12/2019

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:

    1. 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

    2. If at any time after 1 July 2015:

(i)   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

(ii)  The Commonwealth asserted that a debt was owed and demanded repayment of the debt;

AND

    3. 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)

If you fit the definition of a group member set out above, you do not need to do anything further at this stage to become a group member.

What kind of compensation is being sought through the Robodebt Class Action?

As it stands, the Representative Applicants are seeking:

  • Re-payment of the money paid towards unlawful debts;
  • Compensation for the loss of use of the money they have paid to the Commonwealth or that has been taken from them;
  • Compensation for inconvenience and distress;
  • Interest; and
  • Legal Costs

We will provide further details about this as the case progresses.

Centrelink have asked me to provide them with documents, should I provide them?

As we understand it, if you have not received social security payments for more than 14 weeks, there is no obligation on you to provide Centrelink with ongoing or additional information. This applies even if Centrelink writes to you and asks you to check and update your information.

Providing Centrelink with further documents and/or information may not advance your position and could be of detriment to you.

If you do provide documents and/or information there could be a number of outcomes:

  • Your debt amount could increase
  • Your debt amount may not change
  • Centrelink may reduce Your debt amount
  • Centrelink may waive your debt

If you don’t provide further documents and/or information there could be a number of outcomes:

  • Centrelink may conduct a review without that information
  • Centrelink may take no further action
  • Centrelink may further investigate you history of payments to determine whether there are other amounts due to it from you

If you are currently claiming benefits, or have done so in the last 14 weeks, you are likely to be under an obligation to provide Centrelink with the documents they have requested. If you fall within this category and you don’t provide Centrelink with the documents it has requested, Centrelink may take further action against you, including stopping your benefit payment. If you fall within this category, you should seek legal advice.

My Centrelink debt relates to Child Support Allowance, can I join the Robodebt Class Action?

If your Centrelink debt relates to Child Support Allowance, unfortunately this means you will not fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

We are sorry we cannot be of more assistance to you in those circumstances.

Unfortunately we have limited resources and are currently doing our best to recover money which has been paid to the government unlawfully under the Robodebt System.

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:

  • Opening hours: 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday.
  • Website: http://www.ssrv.org.au/
  • Email: info@ssrv.org.au
  • General Advice Line: 03 9481 0355 or 1800 094 164 (rural callers) on Mondays and Wednesdays 9.30am to 12.30pm
  • Worker Help Line: (03) 9481 0655 on Monday-Thursday 9.00am-5.00pm
  • Administration/General Inquiries: (03) 9481 0299 on Monday-Thursday 9.00am-5.00pm

If you are based outside Victoria, please refer to the National Social Security Rights Network webpage to locate your nearest social security rights legal centre: http://www.nssrn.org.au/services/

My Centrelink debt relates to Family Tax Benefit, can I join the Robodebt Class Action?

If your Centrelink debt relates to Family Tax Benefit, unfortunately this means you will not fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

We are sorry we cannot be of more assistance to you in those circumstances.

Unfortunately we have limited resources and are currently doing our best to recover money which has been paid to the government unlawfully under the Robodebt System.

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:

  • Opening hours: 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday.
  • Website: http://www.ssrv.org.au/
  • Email: info@ssrv.org.au
  • General Advice Line: 03 9481 0355 or 1800 094 164 (rural callers) on Mondays and Wednesdays 9.30am to 12.30pm
  • Worker Help Line: (03) 9481 0655 on Monday-Thursday 9.00am-5.00pm
  • Administration/General Inquiries: (03) 9481 0299 on Monday-Thursday 9.00am-5.00pm

If you are based outside Victoria, please refer to the National Social Security Rights Network webpage to locate your nearest social security rights legal centre: http://www.nssrn.org.au/services/

My Centrelink debt relates to Farm Household Allowance, can I join the Robodebt Class Action?

If your Centrelink debt relates to Farm Household Allowance, unfortunately this means you will not fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

We are sorry we cannot be of more assistance to you in those circumstances.

Unfortunately we have limited resources and are currently doing our best to recover money which has been paid to the government unlawfully under the Robodebt System.

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:

  • Opening hours: 9am-5pm Monday to Thursday.
  • Website: http://www.ssrv.org.au/
  • Email: info@ssrv.org.au
  • General Advice Line: 03 9481 0355 or 1800 094 164 (rural callers) on Mondays and Wednesdays 9.30am to 12.30pm
  • Worker Help Line: (03) 9481 0655 on Monday-Thursday 9.00am-5.00pm
  • Administration/General Inquiries: (03) 9481 0299 on Monday-Thursday00am-5.00pm

If you are based outside Victoria, please refer to the National Social Security Rights Network webpage to locate your nearest social security rights legal centre: http://www.nssrn.org.au/services/

A debt notice was sent to me before 1 July 2015, can I still join the Robodebt Class Action?

To be included in the class, you must have been issued with a debt notice by Centrelink after 1 July 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 multiple debt notices, with one or more raised before 1 July 2015, and one or more raised after 1 July 2015, only the debt notices that were issued after 1 July 2015 will fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

I have not paid off any of the debt, can I still join the Robodebt Class Action?

To be included in the class you must have paid back all, or part of the debt, or had some of the debt amount taken from you, for example by having your tax return refund taken, or money taken from your wages or social security payments.

If you have not paid back any of the debt, unfortunately this means you will not fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

If you do pay back some of the debt at a later date, please do not hesitate to notify us of this change in circumstances, as you may then fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action.

Should I make a payment towards the alleged debt?

This is a decision that needs to be made based on your personal circumstances. There are number of factors that may be personal to you, that could determine the best approach for you.

If your debt has not been put on hold, and you do not pay your debt, or enter into a payment plan, there are a number of steps Centrelink may take, including:

a.  referring the debt to a debt collection agency;

b.  add interest to any money they allege you owe;

c.  seek to take money from your tax refund or from your wages, earnings or bank account;

d.  reduce your current Centrelink debt repayments;

e.  prevent you from travelling overseas; and/or

f.   take legal action to recover the alleged debt.

Making a payment, or entering into a payment plan, may mean that Centrelink will not take any of these steps.

I have entered in to a payment plan, can I stop making payments if I am part of the Robodebt Class Action?

If you have entered in to a payment plan and you have agreed to make ongoing payments, this creates an obligation on you to keep making those payments. If you stop making payments you may be in breach of your obligations and Centrelink may:

a.  refer the debt to a debt collection agency;

b.  add interest to any money they allege you owe;

c.  seek to take money from your tax refund or from your wages, earnings or bank account;

d.  reduce your current Centrelink payments;

e.  prevent you from travelling overseas; and/or

f.   take legal action to recover the alleged debt.

Centrelink are deducting money from my benefit payments, how can I stop this?

If your personal circumstances mean that you are struggling to make ends meet with reduced payments, you can ask Centrelink to reduce or freeze your debt repayments. They may not agree to do so, but you can ask.

You also have the right to seek a review of the decision to deduct money from your benefit payments.

I had my repayments frozen but Centrelink have now started deducting money from my benefits, can they do this?

As we understand it, Centrelink Officers can only freeze debt repayments for 3 months.

After 3 months, you have to call Centrelink and ask for the payments to be frozen for a further 3 months.

Will my debt be frozen because I have registered my interest in the Robodebt Class Action?

Registering your interest with Gordon Legal does not automatically result in your debt being frozen. You can ask Centrelink to reduce or freeze your debt repayments, but they may not agree to do so.

Centrelink have suggested that I seek an internal review, should I agree?

As we understand it, there is no time limit on asking for a review of Centrelink's decision that you owe a debt.

Even if you have paid off the debt, you can still ask for a review. If, as a result of the review, a debt is cancelled or reduced, Centrelink may refund money to you. Centrelink should also waive any penalty fee if your debt is cancelled or reduced following a review that leads to a debt being cancelled.

This means that it is possible to wait and seek a review after the Court has made a decision in the Robodebt Class Action.

If you receive a call or letter from Centrelink suggesting that you engage in an internal review process, we want to hear from you. We recommend that you make detailed notes of your conversation with Centrelink, including the date, time, what was said and the name of the person you spoke to. Please email us at robodebt@gordonlegal.com.au and we will get back to you within 5-10 business days.

It is important that you understand that you are not obliged to engage in an internal review Or provide Centrelink with any further information if you have not been on benefits for more than 14 weeks.

My debt has been waived, can I still join the Robodebt Class Action and claim compensation for inconvenience and distress?

If your debt has been waived and any payments made towards the debt have been refunded to you, you may fall within the scope of the Robodebt Class Action. This will be determined at a later date when we know more about the Commonwealth’s responses. We recommend that you register your interest with Gordon Legal.

Should I provide any further information or documents to Gordon Legal?

It is important that you keep all of your documents, but we do not need to review them yet. We recommend that you gather all documents relevant to your alleged Centrelink debt, including but not limited to:

  • A copy of first Centrelink debt notice sent to you;
  • Copies of any subsequent Centrelink debt notices sent to you;
  • Your payslips for the period in which Centrelink allege you were overpaid;
  • Bank statements for the period in which Centrelink allege you were overpaid; and
  • Any other document related to the alleged Centrelink debt.

We do not need to review your documents at this stage, so we would be grateful if you would refrain from sending them to us. We will let you know if and when we need to review your documents.

Centrelink won’t provide me with copies of my documents, what should I do?

If Centrelink have refused your request for your documents, or if you do not have access to your documents, you can make a Freedom of Information request to Centrelink for your file.

The form can be found here: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/forms/si031

At part 23 of the form, tick ‘a copy’ and seek the following:

A copy of my Centrelink file including:

  • Details of any debts owed by me;
  • Any notes, documents, correspondence or screens regarding any communication about the debts or reviews of the debts, including authorised review officer review;
  • ADEX Debt Schedule report/s;
  • Multical documents;
  • Details of all payments made to me by Centrelink during the financial years of the alleged overpayment;
  • Details of all income reported by me to Centrelink during the financial years of the alleged overpayment;
  • Any Integrated Review Activity documents; and
  • Copies of any documents I provided to Centrelink regarding my employment including any pay advices, bank statements and group certificates.

You can file the form by email by sending it to freedomofinformation@humanservices.gov.au

Centrelink will then have 30 days to provide your information to you.

How much will it cost me to become part of the Robodebt Class Action?

If you fit within the definition of a ‘Group Member’ set out in answer to the question “How do I know whether I am part of the Robodebt Class Action?” set out above, you are already a group member and therefore a part of the Robodebt Class Action unless you opt out of the proceedings at some later date.

It does not cost you anything to register with Gordon Legal.

If there is a successful outcome, the Court may make an order that group members make a contribution to the legal costs incurred by the Representative Applicants, which are not recovered from the Commonwealth. If the Court makes such an order, it will only do so if it is satisfied that any costs you are asked to pay are fair, reasonable and proportionate. In our view, the Court is unlikely to order that a group member contribute to legal costs unless they receive the benefit of any settlement or judgement in the Robodebt Class Action.

Until a successful outcome is achieved, all costs will be covered by Gordon Legal. If the Robodebt Class Action is not successful, it won’t cost you anything.

Can I withdraw from the Robodebt Class Action?

Yes, the choice is yours.

It is important to remember that if you fall within the definition of a Group Member (as set out earlier) you are automatically a Group Member. It is not necessary for you to take any step, including that it is not necessary for you to register with Gordon Legal, although we think it is in your best interests to do so.

If you do register with Gordon Legal, we will provide you with regular updates about the progress of the Robodebt Class Action.

Typically, the Court will set a date by which you and other Group Members who do not wish to participate in or be bound by the Robodebt Class Action must “opt-out” of the proceedings. If an opt-out date is set by the Court, there will be notification process undertaken.