This is not legal advice but I have just spent a week investigating and thought some of what I found out might be useful.
First of all read Emeritus Professor at Law Andrew Carneys recently released 16 pages legal opinion as to how he thinks the process Centrelink is using is unlawful, Google “Terry Carney new digital future for welfare debts without legal proofs”.
He is a former Judge of AAT 1 sitting and hearing Centrelink cases for the past 29 years.
Our case hasn't gone to debt yet but it will. Their algorithm can’t handle it & keeps spitting up errors.
It involves 3 different types of payment and 4 different employers during periods when I was not even on Centrelink so therefore not at law required to report income. Basically Professor Carney is saying that according to Law, the legal principle is “He (Centrelink) who asserts must prove." Not the client.
It is a complete impossibility that a net payment shown on a specific day on a bank statement can be proved by Centrelink at the AAT that the net amount plus tax related to a specific fortnight.
They might be able to do it from Payslips but not bank statements, the algorithm in their giant computer known as "Customer First" (I’m not joking”) adds the tax, and back dates it into a random fortnight, but in our case 4 different tax free threshold declarations, and haphazard pay periods, entitled to low income and pension rebates etc.
The first letter they send is titled “Employment Income Confirmation” it does not contain an legal reference to what act and section it is made under but says “you must respond within 28 days”.
It is a fishing expedition don’t take the bait.
My understanding is they do have a power to demand information under section 196, but this is only from people that have a debt already not those like us where they haven’t falsely calculated it yet.
When you ring the 1800 086 400 purporting to be the compliance section, they answer (surprisingly fast).
They are told to say they work for Centrelink, but if you specifically ask them they will tell you they are contractors working for Chandler & McLeod (large donors to the Liberal Party) a subsidiary of Japanese multinational RGF staffing International a Japanese Multinational.
They are not trained to do anything but enter raw data into “customer first” and spit at the usually incorrect debt.
If you agree to it they will send you the debt letter with 14 days to pay, don’t be sucked in, appeal, appeal, appeal.
DO NOT give these people payslips or bank statements.
Centrelink has coercive powers to get payslips from employers if they want and as per professor Carneys paper, is it impossibility in most cases for Centrelink to prove which reporting fortnight a net payment on a single day in a bank statement belongs in.
Say to them I haven’t got access to payslips or bank statements please generate the debt.
Once this generates they POST (only after being forced to supply it by the Senate Inquiry) (The ADEX schedule- a spread sheet of how “Customer First” calculated the debt) another sneaky move rather than attaching it to your online account with the debt letter. Once you get it you can compare it to your bank statements and payment summaries and see if there are any obvious errors.
You then lodge your ARO (Authorised Review Officer) review, It is a two page form SS 351, do it at a Centrelink office and get them to stamp it and give you the copy back.
The space to provide information is very small so attach documents.
They will try and fob you off with other verbal reviews. You are entitled to a FORMAL REVIEW under the Act, use the 351 form and get a copy.
At this point you can supply the bank statements if you think they favour your case, but I would never at any point give them payslips, even before the AAT.
If they want to produce them at the AAT then good luck to them they’ve used their coercive powers lawfully to obtain them from the employer.
Bring up the problem (for Centrelink)- to the ARO- with using bank statements before the AAT. Say to the ARO that you will be appealing to the AAT on this point and ask that any debt be waived under the special circumstance provisions in the Act.
Cost benefits, they’re going to lose at the AAT, mental health whatever.
If this doesn’t work appeal to the AAT using the bank statement argument. Its free all the way to AAT2, so clog the system up with Appeals.
As per Prof Carneys Podcast around 2000 Robo Debt cases have appeared before the AAT and not one has been appealed by Centrelink to the Federal Court, where case law can be made.
Does that tell you something, they know its shaky legal ground but they are making so much money from frightening people into paying they can’t give up the Candy, budget emergency and all that?
Say that you are lodging the appeal on the grounds that you consider the process to be unlawful and that Centrelink will need to prove before the AAT that the amount of debt is correct and that the net amount shown on the bank statements belongs in which applicable fortnight & that the correct tax rate has been applied by the algorithm.
You might get lucky and the ARO will waive it or reduce it to something you agree with otherwise continue on to AAT 1 and AAT 2 good luck .