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No answer from Zed - local welfare recipients await action on Robo-Debt Program

31 January 2017
ACTCOSS
ACT Council of Social Services Inc

The ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) again today calls on Senator Zed Seselja to stand up for people in the ACT caught up in the Federal Government’s Centrelink Robo-Debt Recovery Program.

ACTCOSS Director, Susan Helyar, says that the government’s Debt Recovery Program is an unjust prosecution of our communities’ most vulnerable, who need support from local MPs.

“On 13 January over a fortnight ago ACTCOSS wrote to the Senator asking him to support ACTCOSS’ call to suspend the debt recovery program until the risks and flaws in the system were resolved.

“We also asked him to follow up with his colleague (the Minister for Human Services) to release data on the operation of the debt recovery program in the ACT, and its effects on local welfare recipients (questions attached).

“To date, we have not yet had a response.

"This program is wrong and must stop. It is creating errors and compromises the emotional and financial wellbeing of thousands of people. It inappropriately puts all the risks of the flawed debt recovery approach on the shoulders of people who have received income support, many of whom live with significant vulnerability and face barriers to asserting their rights in complex, intimidating systems. 

“It’s also counterproductive and out of touch with the realities of income support and the sporadic and precarious work available in today’s job market. Governments have spent years encouraging people on income support to find work where they can and now it is inflicting a confusing and punitive process on people who do. An automated system is simply the wrong approach for this issue.

“This is not high quality public administration and should not be the modus operandi of our Federal Government. Rather than go on an automated debt recovery fishing expedition, government must adopt a fair and humane approach with proper checks and balances to debt recovery with Centrelink staff involved in the process.

“Community organisations have been responding to the confusion, fear and anger by offering legal assistance, financial support, information and advocacy united through the #notmydebt campaign. 

“We need Senator Seselja to stand up for his ACT constituents and reduce confusion, fear and anger by finding out and sharing data on how many people in the ACT have been caught up in the debt recovery program, how they have been assisted to resolve their individual matters and how any disputes have been dealt with,” Ms Helyar said

People around Australia are calling on Coalition MPs and Senators to speak up for people in their electorate about the risks and flaws in the robo-debt recovery program. ACTCOSS encourages voters in the ACT to call Senator Seselja’s Office to express their concerns and support ACTCOSS’ call for him to take action. His office number is: 02 6277 3187.

People in can seek free legal advice and assistance through Canberra Community Law if they think they have been mistakenly issued a debt notice by calling  02 6218 7900 (ACT residents) or 1800 445 665 (South East NSW region)

The National Social Security Rights Network has published information to support people to understand the debt recovery process and their rights: http://www.welfarerights.org.au/news/2017/1/9/new-factsheet-centrelink-online-debt-system(link is external)

For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200.

 

QUESTIONS SENT TO SENATOR SESELJA, 13 JANUARY 2017

  1. How many people in the ACT have been sent a letter as a result of the automated data matching system that commenced in July?
  2. What is the number of people in the ACT who have managed to resolve the matter online?
  3. What is the number of people in the ACT who did not have a debt with Centrelink after updating their details?
  4. What is the number of people in the ACT who had a debt reduced after updating their details?
  5. What is the number of people in the ACT have repaid their debt?
  6. What is the number of people in the ACT who have entered into a payment plan to repay their debt?
  7. What is the number of people in the ACT who have requested a review from an Authorised Review Officer?
  8. What is the number of cases in the ACT that have been taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal?
  9. What is the number of people in the ACT who have had a 10% recover fee applied?
  10. How many people in the ACT are having their debt sought by a debt collector?