The Coalition government is ramping up its controversial “robo-debt” program, sending letters to welfare recipients about Centrelink debts in greater volumes and ignoring repeated calls to halt automated debt recovery, the Canberra Times reports.
Officials at the Department of Human Services told senators of its redoubled debt recovery effort, saying it had mailed 114,000 letters raising possible debts in July and August, more than a quarter of all notices sent during the 14-month life of the program.
The figure confirmed the Coalition has doubled down on its maligned “robo-debt” effort despite a Senate inquiry finding it should suspend methods of debt recovery that relied on matching and averaging income records held by Centrelink and the Tax Office.
Human Services official Jason McNamara told a Senate estimates hearing that in 202,000 cases where the department finalised the debt amount, 49,000 welfare recipients who received letters since the ‘robo-debt’ program started in July 2016 were found to owe nothing.
It had found 153,000 debts were owed, but had also later discovered 29,000 or nearly 20 per cent of these amounts had been wrong.
This included nearly 10,000 or 7 per cent of debt amounts reduced to zero on review and another 17,000 lowered to a total above zero.
Mr McNamara confirmed that of 430,000 letters the department sent raising possible debts since July 2016, less than half had determined whether a debt was owed or not, indicating it was still corresponding with clients trying to prove they weren’t overpaid income support.