The last two days of evidence to the senate inquiry into Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system has raised a myriad of issues and suggests recipients feel bullied by the Government who are pursuing a debt that people may not owe.
“Many people are being affected including pensioners, single parents, students, carers and jobseekers. Lots of these people are effectively putting their lives on hold to prove their innocence”, Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said today.
“It is clear from evidence provided that some people expect the Government to get things right, so start to pay their debt, which in fact they may not owe.
“At this stage we don't know how many people have paid or started to pay a debt they either do not owe or an incorrect debt.
“The Department of Human Services in the main continue to defend the automated debt recovery process despite the problems being exposed.“Legal aid and community legal centre lawyers have today seriously questioned the legality of the program, in particular because debts sent out have not been critically evaluated. I'm hoping during forthcoming hearings that we can explore this issue further.
“We have heard evidence that using ATO records that average out fluctuating and intermittent incomes is resulting in a high rate of false debts that is left for recipients to disprove.
“Witnesses are asking time and again why is the burden of proof being put on the recipients to prove they don't owe a debt. Sometimes debts have been changed with no explanation and people don't understand the process or their rights.
“Nearly all witnesses want to see the program be suspended or scrapped because of the flaws raised however the Government does not appear to be listening. The committee will continue to gather evidence from hearings around the country”.