Flood victims hit with robodebt notices
A TOWNSVILLE resident has been hit with a $2000 Centrelink robodebt notice, despite Federal Government ministers repeatedly denying debt recovery has resumed in the region following the devastating February floods.
Cairns-based Senator Nita Green, in parliament on Wednesday, again grilled Families and Social Services Minister Anne Ruston on claims no debt recovery was being undertaken in Townsville.
"I have now been provided with a robo-debt notice for almost $2000, issued on 8 July to a recipient in Townsville," Ms Green said.
"How is this notice consistent with the minister's statement in question time last Tuesday that 'there has been no debt recovery undertaken in the Townsville area'?"
The debt notice was issued to a resident into the 4812 postcode area, which takes in the suburbs of Currajong, Gulliver, Hermit Park and Rosslea.
Hermit Park and Rosslea were some of the worst hit suburbs in Townsville, particularly Hodel St.
The notice states the resident's Carer payment had been "reassessed" and they needed to pay Centrelink back for receiving more than they were entitled to.
Solicitor Michael Murray, from the Townsville Community Legal Centre, said there had been a "steady increase" in recent weeks of people seeking advice after being hit with a Centrelink debt notice.
The Department of Human Services told the Townsville Bulletin "some" compliance activity resumed this month and the situation post-flood continues to be monitored.
However, Senator Ruston yesterday continued to deny that debt recovery was occurring.
"I can categorically state, as I stand here today, that the pause that was placed on those postcode areas in the Townsville area post the floods remains in place," she said.
"Once I have had the opportunity to review what's in this letter, I will come back to this place and I will advise you of my response to it."
The Senate also voted yesterday to refer Centrelink's controversial robo-debt collection of welfare payments for another parliamentary inquiry as calls grow to scrap the system.
The Senate's community affairs committee is set to examine the federal government's automatic debt collection system, which has come under fire for being inaccurate.
Labor is demanding the government axe robo-debt, arguing the system is cruel and malfunctioning, while the Greens led the charge for a second inquiry in less than three years.
The committee will look at how robo-debt affects people, the data-matching techniques used by Centrelink and how errors are dealt with.
Greens community affairs spokeswoman Senator Rachel Siewert said the government had ignored the first inquiry's key recommendation to suspend the program.
"Instead, the government ramped it up. To this day, people continue to be pursued," she said.
"I hear from so many people that they have given up appealing their debt even though they know they don't owe anything, simply because they cannot keep fighting such an opaque system."
Previously the Department of Human Services said if there was a discrepancy people would be contacted by the department and given an opportunity to address the issue themselves without an automatic demand to pay.