Test case wal­lops ro­bodebt sys­tem

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS - CLAIRE BICK­ERS Fed­eral Bureau Chief

THOU­SANDS of Tas­ma­ni­ans hit by a Cen­tre­link ro­bodebt no­tice are be­ing urged to sign up for a class ac­tion after a land­mark le­gal de­ci­sion this week.

About 6500 peo­ple hit by so-called ro­bodebt no­tices have al­ready reg­is­tered for a class ac­tion launched by law firm Gor­don Le­gal.

But thou­sands more are be­ing urged to reg­is­ter after Vic­to­rian woman Deanna Amato’s test case es­tab­lished that debts raised through tax of­fice data-match­ing alone were un­law­ful.

The his­toric de­ci­sion comes just a week after Cen­tre­link stopped us­ing in­come av­er­ag­ing as the only method of rais­ing debts. It now re­quires ad­di­tional proof.

Tas­ma­nian Coun­cil of So­cial Ser­vices chief ex­ec­u­tive Kym Goodes said the ver­dict con­firmed the ro­bodebt sys­tem was “flawed from the start” and many of Tas­ma­nia’s most vul­ner­a­ble ex­pe­ri­enced “un­fair, im­per­sonal and dam­ag­ing treat­ment”.

“Ro­bodebt has achieved noth­ing pos­i­tive,” she said.

“It will take years and con­sid­er­able change to re­verse the dam­age that has been done to peo­ple’s con­fi­dence in the so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem.”

Ms Goodes called on the Gov­ern­ment to apol­o­gise, proac­tively en­sure all debts col­lected were cal­cu­lated cor­rectly, and to re­fund those who were in­cor­rectly tar­geted.

La­bor front­bencher Bill Shorten said the de­ci­sion proved the scheme was “il­le­gal” and en­cour­aged peo­ple whose money was “taken from them wrong­fully by ro­bodebt” to get in­volved in the class ac­tion.

The Hu­man Ser­vices de­part­ment set­tled the case with Ms Amato, after it had claimed she owed $2754 and had seized her $1700 tax re­turn. The 34year-old had her debt wiped, was re­funded the full amount, granted $92 in­ter­est and had her court costs cov­ered.

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