Robo-debts totalling $721m to be paid back

Centrelink

Thousands on Centrelink are due for a massive payday as government announces $721million in refunds

Today has finally bought some good news for anyone who's been stuck in robodebt hell for the last few years - the government has announced it will refund $721 million worth of debts that it raised through the scheme.

Minister for Government Service Stuart Robert said affected welfare recipients "do not need to do anything" to receive their refund. "Anyone with questions about their income compliance review can call 1800 061 838", he said.

Robodebt, officially known as the income compliance program, was introduced by the then Department of Human Services in 2016 to replace parts of a formally manual debt-raising process.

About 470,000 debts were raised through the defunct welfare scheme, which is now the subject of a class action challenge.

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NSW Labor senator Tim Ayres said he was unhappy about the timing of the announcement, coming shortly after Prime Minister Scott Morrison had finished a major press conference in which he made no reference to it.

Interest payments and recovery fees will also be refunded.

The system automatically matched earnings reported to Centrelink against employer-reported income data held by the ATO, with individuals asked to explain any discrepancies.

The controversial system was ruled unlawful past year, with the Federal Court saying Centrelink could not have been satisfied the debt was correct.

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But last November, the government was forced to change the way debts are raised after a Federal Court ruling found the way so-called debts were raised failed the evidence test at the first hurdle.

People were automatically contacted if Centrelink thought they might owe more than $1000.

One in five debt letters sent were based on false information.

Opposition government services spokesman Bill Shorten said people won't get their money back until July, money the government was never entitled to take.

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Greens senator Rachel Siewert was cheering that people will be repaid, saying it was impossible to count the social and economic cost of the scheme. "In modern media it's a 24-hour news cycle, I don't think there are quiet periods", he said.

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