The Department of Human Services has announced a stunning reversal of its controversial Robodebt program.
The Department has advised staff that it will no longer raise debts based solely on ‘income averaging’, even in cases where people do not respond to requests to explain discrepancies. Instead, the Department will conduct its own further investigation to determine whether a debt actually exists.
However, the Government has not advised whether they will lift the staffing (ASL) cap to allow the Department to employ the staff needed do this work and the CPSU is urgently calling on them to do so, and to reverse the continuing privatisation of social security.
The move is acknowledgement of the significant concerns raised by DHS clients and staff about error rates, and the complexities for people challenging their debt notices and collecting evidence, sometimes from many years ago, to explain discrepancies.
While CPSU members welcome the announcement, they note that because of the Government’s cap on public sector staff, DHS is struggling with understaffing to take on this additional work.
The Government needs to immediately lift the staffing cap and provide the department with a properly trained and stable workforce so the Department can follow through with implementing the new program.
CPSU National Secretary, Melissa Donnelly said:
“This is a really important shift and acknowledges the dedication and expertise of CPSU members working in DHS, as well as the community members, and community advocates who spoke out to tell their stories and worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issues.
“Restoring human oversight to debt decisions is incredibly important, but the decision will mean nothing if there aren’t enough permanent, properly trained staff to do this complex work.
“There is a huge backlog of robodebts that have already been generated, and the Department needs to be provided with more staff to get through this work. Robodebt has been an extraordinary mess, it will take a long time to unpick it, and there’s no way it can get done without proper resourcing.
“The Government has been stealthily privatising social security for a long time now, it’s time to fix that and restore the social security system that everyone in the community has the right to be able to access.
“Our social security safety net is critical to the community. It is beyond time that this government does the right thing and commits to resourcing it properly instead of attacking it.”