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Welfare recipients say Centrelink robo-debt system left them stressed and afraid

28 March 2017
Christopher Knaus
Guardian

Welfare recipients caught up in Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system have spoken of feeling powerless, afraid, stressed and overwhelmed. 

The Senate inquiry into Centrelink’s debt recovery system, commonly referred to as “robo-debt”, has now received 66 submissions

The majority are from community groups, welfare rights organisations and individual welfare recipients who continue to hold serious concerns about the way Centrelink is pursuing debts from the most vulnerable sections of Australian society.

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The department has referred some former recipients to external debt collection agencies. There have been complaints about the practices of those debt collection agencies. 

The department said the debt collection agencies were subject to consumer law. 

Shadow human services minister, Linda Burney, who has led Labor’s opposition to the system, said the submissions show a human side to the problems with robo debt. 

“There is a human side to Mr Tudge’s robo-debt disaster – the submissions to the Senate inquiry make it all to clear that this system is hurting the community,” she said. 

“The inquiry has more work to do exposing the truth but it is already clear from these submissions that this system is far from ‘working well’.”

Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the submissions evidenced the level of distress felt by those caught in the debt recovery system. She said individuals clearly felt afraid of coming forward. 

“A lot of the submissions are either confidential or have their name withheld, which I think demonstrates that people feel intimidated about speaking out,” Siewert said. 

“I am glad that people are still submitting so we can hear personal experiences to help understand the impact of this process. Evidence given at the hearings will deepen that understanding.”