ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: Inquiry hears calls for robo-debt suspension

8 March 2017

The ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) joined the Australian Council of Social Service in giving evidence into the Senate Inquiry into the Federal Government’s Centrelink Robo-Debt Recovery Program this morning.

ACTCOSS Director, Susan Helyar, told the first day of hearings at the inquiry into the Better Management of the Social Welfare System initiative that the program represented a failure of government administration.

“This program is first and foremost a massive failure of government administration that undermines the trust and confidence of ordinary people in their government.  People are entitled to know that their government will treat them fairly and that it won’t hound them for money they do not owe”, said Ms Helyar.

The inquiry heard evidence that thousands of Centrelink customers had received threatening and intimidating letters and that the program was prone to errors.

It also heard evidence that legal and financial counselling services had been approached by vulnerable people since the program started and that the bulk of these cases have been resolved in the clients favour because the debt was not owed. 

ACTCOSS backed the call by ACOSS for the digitised debt recovery program to cease and for the government to redesign the program to recover Centrelink overpayments in a fair, humane and accurate way using a roundtable of experts in Social Security law, the circumstances of people incurring debts and in data systems.

In addition ACTCOSS highlighted the impacts on Canberra people arising from a growth in the number of people in casual and precarious work in Canberra. 

According to Susan Helyar: “We can no longer assume that Canberra is a 9-5 public service town and increasing numbers of people are spending periods in low paying jobs with some support from Centrelink as they work towards ongoing employment”. 

ACTCOSS is preparing a submission to the inquiry and encourages individuals affected by the program to make a submission between now and 22 March. 

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