Centrelink's 'robodebt' program 'harsh and unfair' and should be scrapped, Federal Labor says

| 30.07,19. 03:49 AM |

Centrelink's 'robodebt' program 'harsh and unfair' and should be scrapped, Federal Labor says

Photo: Labor spokesman Bill Shorten described the debt recovery program as "harsh and unfair". (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Federal Labor has called for Centrelink's "robodebt" program to be scrapped, saying the automated debt recovery program is causing a "trail of human heartache".

The electronic system compares income reported by welfare recipients with data held by the Australian Tax Office.

If there is a discrepancy, people are often automatically sent a notice asking for further information, such as payslips from years earlier.

A debt can then be raised if people do not provide their past employment details.

On Monday night, the ABC's 7.30 program revealed Centrelink is pursuing the debt of a disability pensioner who has died.

Six months after her son Bruce's death at age 49, Anastasia McCardel received a call saying he owed a debt of nearly $7000.

Opposition spokesman Bill Shorten said the story "should shame Government Services Minister Stuart Robert to finally act and address the problems at the heart of this scheme".

"The Government's robodebt scheme is so seriously malfunctioning it must be scrapped," he said in a statement.

Critics have questioned the legality of the online compliance system, which has been in operation since mid-2016.

It reverses the onus of proof and forces welfare recipients to show they do not owe money.

Debt recovery system 'a mess'

Thousands of the so-called "robodebts" have been waived or reduced because of errors with the initial calculation.

"Robodebt is inaccurate, harsh and unfair," Mr Shorten said.

"The Minister needs to go back to the drawing board.

"We recognise the right of government to recoup legitimate debts that are owed.

"But robodebt ... is a mess."

Labor wants more human oversight of the process.

In the past, a Centrelink officer would do a basic investigation before deciding whether to send out a letter.

Speaking before Mr Shorten's statement, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert stood by the policy.

"In the last four or five years the department has recovered $1.9 billion in overpayments and we have a legal responsibility to do that," Mr Robert said.

"There is a legal requirement upon us to ensure our highly-targeted welfare system has the right people getting the right money at the right time."

Mr Robert also defended the practice of recovering some debts from the estates of dead people.

"Normally in matters where someone has passed away, if the debt is substantial it gets raised with the estate or an assessment is made as to whether it's economic to actually recover," he said.

"And in many cases the debt is foregone and wiped."


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