Centrelink’s robo-copout

CHURCHILL resident Kate Zizys can empathise with Centrelink clients affected by ‘robo-debt’ orders for money they may not owe.

Having been in the Centrelink system on and off for most of her adult life, Ms Zizys has been forced to make inflated repayments in the past, despite going to appeal.

The government’s new debt-recovery process uses an automated system to match information held by Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office and calculate overpayments.

Since its implementation reports have flooded in from people targeted for debt recovery being harassed by debt collectors or threatened with jail time over money they don’t owe.

In some cases the problems have stemmed from the system averaging out payments on a fortnightly basis as opposed to the actual times and dates of work.

Ms Zizys said jobs were scarce, even for qualified people such as herself, and the system did not take into account the nuances of modern work life.

“I don’t think the system really understands the contemporary working world,” she said.

“A lot of people are underemployed or they’re working some of the time but then not other times, then they’re working three jobs, then they’re working no jobs.

“I don’t think the government and those systems are acknowledging how that’s panning out and how casualised the working world is now.”

People working numerous jobs have also faced difficulties sourcing all the necessary documentation from various employers.

“If you’re working three different casual jobs then you’re paying different rates of tax as well, it gets so complicated and then they put a stupid digital system in which doesn’t account for any of life’s complexities,” Ms Zizys said.

“It’s an attack on poor people; it’s an attack on the welfare system.”

Ms Zizys advised anyone concerned about debt they do not believe they owe to visit www.notmydebt.com.au which offers advice on how to manage their situation and shared stories from affected clients.

She said help was also available through the Australian Unemployed Workers Union online at www.unemployedworkersunion.com or by phoning 8394 5266.

She also encouraged affected people to make a submission to the upcoming senate inquiry by 22 March via www.aph.gov.au