I too have fallen victim to the Robo-debt Scam, with Centrelink attempting to recover $12,000 from me. This news came in the same week as losing my part-time job. I received the letter asking me to review my income for the periods 2014-19. After attempting multiple times to contact previous employers, I was unable to retrieve payment summaries from them, with centrelink now withholding $60 per fortnight of my $599 per fortnight student allowance. As a student in her 20’s looking for work and without another income source, this is a sizeable chunk as I am currently paying $240 per week in rent.
I spoke to a Centrelink employee over the phone, who told me that the debt has been incurred because of the way the system checks income. Rather than accounting for income reported each fortnight, their system assesses income for the financial year as provided by the ATO and averages the amount out over the year. This inevitably makes any reported income amounts appear incorrect. The staff member advised me that ‘chances are after you provide your income, the debt will be much smaller if anything at all’. This method of ‘income assessment’ renders the entire system of income reporting redundant, particularly for people such as myself who did not have a consistent weekly income, working different hours each week.
So it has been left up to me to go through years of bank statements, just to filter out weekly payments from my employer. While I agree that I may not have reported correctly a small handful of times between 2014-16, I would expect any debt incurred to be in the $100’s rather than $12,000. This amount is absolutely baseless and does not take into account any income reporting.
As a sufferer of anxiety and depression who is often overwhelmed by life’s pressures, receiving this letter and the consequent follow-up in an attempt to lower/clear this false debt has left me in tears and compounded the stress of an already difficult period. The Robodebt system is targeting Australia’s most vulnerable, tarring us with the brush of ‘guilty until proven innocent’. While I am still battling to appeal the decision made by Centrelink, I am only one of many affected by this system of extortion. We feel small and powerless, but if we have stronger, louder voices behind us, we can call this out for what it is and right this wrong going forward.
The Centrelink debt recovery system is extortion and demonstrates an unacceptable level of corruption in government.
The Centrelink employee I spoke to admitted to me over the phone that if I can provide proof of my income for the period stated, I will be unlikely to have a debt. This only proves that employees of the department are clearly aware that the system is inaccurate, yet nothing is being done to correct it. I did not vote for this government, yet I, like many others are fated to suffer its oppressive consequences.