How to get your share of the $720 million robodebt refund
The federal government is set to return more than 470,000 robodebts valued at $720 million, after admitting that its method for assessing the income of welfare recipients was flawed. But how do you know, and what should you do, if you're due for a refund?
In 2016, Centrelink rolled out an automated system to detect overpayments to recipients of social security payments. It cross-checked income information held by government agencies, typically the Australian Tax Office (ATO), with a person's reported income. If the system detected a difference between the two, you got a letter from Centrelink asking for further proof of income.
If you didn't comply, Centrelink went ahead and averaged the data from the ATO over multiple fortnights to arrive at a debt it asked you to pay.
Following a case brought by Victoria Legal Aid on behalf of Deanna Amato, the government accepted that income averaging was an unlawful way to calculate debts. This was followed by a class action from Gordon Legal, which resulted in a court order for all affected robodebts to be returned.
"Robodebt hit people even when they were going through the hardest of times - after the death of a family member, in the wake of a natural disaster, and when they were living on next to nothing, getting rejection after rejection with not enough jobs available," says Australian Council of Social Service Acting CEO Jacqueline Phillips.
"Robodebt was proven to be unlawful and it should never have been unleashed on the community. It is disappointing that it has taken almost four years for the government to admit it got this so wrong."
If you've been affected, there's not much to do except sit back and wait. Those of you affected would have received a notice through your MyGov portal informing you of your membership in the Gordon Legal class action, and the option to opt out.
According to Gordon Legal, you're a member of the class action if you were in receipt of one of the following Social Security payments:
- Newstart Allowance
- Youth Allowance
- Disability Support Pension
- Austudy Allowance
- Age Pension
- Carer Payment
- Parenting Payment
- Partner Allowance
- Sickness Allowance
- Special Benefit
- Widow A Allowance
- Widow B Pension.
And if at any time after April 2015:
- You received or were sent Centrelink letters or other correspondence or notification which requested that you check, confirm or update employment income information; and
- Following this, Centrelink asserted that you owed a debt and demanded repayment of the debt; and
- In calculating your debt, Centrelink applied data from the ATO to your record for some, or all, of the debt period.
- You have paid, or had recovered from you, any debt or part thereof (including through a payment plan, garnishing of tax return or payment of the debt in full).
The federal government says it will automatically contact those eligible and commence refunds from the July 1.