Showing posts with label Centrelink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Centrelink. Show all posts

Friday, 22 May 2020

North Coast Voices received a takedown notice on 19 May 2020


On 24 April 2018 North Coast Voices published a blog post title "Hank Jorgen and Centrelink unleash the dogs…..".

On 19 May 2020 the blog received a Google takedown notice for that particular post, effective immediately.

Now apart from its title, the post only contained one sentence of comment by North Coast Voices:

"Forget establishing that an actual debt exists – this is 2018 and come hell or high water the Turnbull Government wants to use Centrelink to prop up its financial bottom line in time for the May 2018 budget papers."

The remainder of the post comprised of extracts from two online mainstream media articles - one by journalist Alice Workman published by Buzzfeed and the other by journalist Noel Towell published by the Canberra Times. These extracts were followed by inclusion of five tweets politely critical of 'robodebt' and two links to NotMyDebt.

Both media articles are still online.

So what sin had North Coast Voices committed?

Well apparently it had used a BuzzFeed extract which mentioned a business called Detective Desk - an IT company whose services were used by at least one debt collection agency (Australian Receivables Ltd) whom Services Australia had contracted until 3 February 2021 to assist with debt management/recovery under the automated data matching Online Compliance Intervention System process aka robodebt.

One can deduce this because the 2017 Buzzfeed article now has a new headline and is prefaced by a grovelling apology which runs thus:

CORRECTION

An earlier version of this article, which was entitled 'Your private information is being sent overseas by Centrelink', included some statements about Detective Desk which were corrected and are retracted by BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed regrets these errors.

One has to wonder if the unknown person or persons who decided to chase up mention of this company and remove any part of the original Buzzfeed article from view after all these years was doing so because a class action is now underway in the Federal Court of Australia which may expose the full lengths that Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison, first as Minister for Social Services, then Federal Treasurer and finally as Prime Minister, went to in order to unlawfully claw back money from vulnerable welfare recipients.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Morrison Government expects to be forced to refund est. $555.6 million unlawfully taken from at least 449,500 Centrelink clients






In July 2016 the federal Coaltion Government began to issue income compliance notices based on automated data matching.

At the time the then Minister for Social Social Services Scott Morrison expected to clawback an est. $1.7 billion dollars over five years from individuals who were, or had been in the past, receiving a Centrelink pension, benefit or allowance.


By 2019 at least 570,000 of those over 600,000 income compliance notices were considered to be unlawful. As were Australian Taxation Office garnishee notices associated with these alleged debts.


Refunding these wrongfully raised debts would see at least $555.6 million returned to Centrelink clients.


Becoming a member of a class action does not expose a ‘robodebt’ recipient to any additional legal liability with regard to the alleged debt.

However, the Morrison Government is possibly hoping many victims will not realise this and sign the Centrelink Opt Out Notice – Federal Court of Australia – ‘Robodebt’(Social Security Debt Collection) Class Action (VID1252/2019) notices it is currently sending out.

Gordon Legal has outlined possible court dates:

On 6 March 2020 the Honourable Mr Justice Murphy of the Federal Court ordered that the parties hold a mediation prior to 19 June 2020. This is an opportunity for the matter to be resolved with the consent of both parties.

Justice Murphy also ordered that, if the matter does not settle at mediation, a trial will begin in the Federal Court on 20 July 2020 (or if that date is not available, on 21 September 2020).

Services Australia (formerly the Dept. of Social Services-Centrelink) despite its denials continues to raise alleged debts and send out notices.


The Guardian, 18 May 2020:

Hundreds of thousands of Australians affected by the government’s robodebt scheme will receive notices from Centrelink about an upcoming class action under orders from the federal court.

Guardian Australia last month revealed secret government advice showing the commonwealth hopes to settle the case and has privately admitted more than 400,000 welfare debts were unlawfully issued under the scandal-ridden “income compliance program”.

But the parties are yet to reach a settlement, setting up a potential trial as early as July where law firm Gordon Legal will seek interest and compensation as well as the repayment of debts unlawfully claimed by the government.

Under court orders issued in March, the government has been told to identify all potential class action members and send out notices via MyGov or by post about the upcoming court challenge by 25 May.

More than 12,000 people have registered with the firm, but under Australian law people identified as members of the “class” are considered part of the action unless they “opt-out”, which would allow them to pursue their own individual claim.

Labor’s government services spokesman, Bill Shorten, said the government should “settle this case immediately, restore public confidence in Centrelink by allowing the court to be the independent umpire, and pay the victims back their money as well as interest”.

This would allow the hundreds of Centrelink workers working on limiting the government’s robodebt exposure to be moved back to the frontlines of helping their fellow Australians with their social security needs in this time of national challenge,” he told Guardian Australia.

Since July 2015, more than 600,000 debt notices had been sent out under the scheme, which the government conceded was unlawful in federal court in November, while thousands more received letters demanding they prove they were not overpaid by Centrelink.

Some debt recipients had their tax returns seized over the debts, while others were also forced to pay a 10% “recovery fee” on top of the alleged debt.

Gordon Legal believes the case would represent one of the largest class actions in Australian history.

Late last week, the government declined to answer several written questions about the robodebt scheme, successfully applying for public interest immunity in the Senate.

Services Australia declined to answer how many debts had been issued using the unlawful “income averaging” method or whether it would repay victims, including debts recovered from deceased estates.

This question relates to a court case that is currently before the federal court of Australia,” the agency said. “Services Australia will abide by any decision of the court.”

But a ministerial submission to cabinet, leaked to the Guardian, revealed the government hopes to settle the case and that Services Australia expects to “administer 449,500 refunds determined under the programme”, worth $555.6m.

The robodebt class action notices come as the government pushes ahead with plans for an inquiry into class actions in Australia.

Porter last week claimed a “lack of regulation governing the booming litigation funding industry is leading to poor justice outcomes”.

But Labor has argued the inquiry is a response to Gordon Legal’s class action against the robodebt scheme.

If the parties do not reach a settlement, a trial is expected between July and September.

The government’s legal advice shows it expects to lose the class action under Gordon Legal’s claim of “unjust enrichment”, although it believes the compensation claim is less likely to be successful.

This is likely to result in the commonwealth being ordered to repay debts within a timeframe set by the Court, and to pay interest and legal costs,” the advice said.

Court documents show the number of potential victims expanded in March after the government withdrew an earlier claim that people receiving Carer Payment were not subjected to the scheme.

The government has conceded in court that debts that relied on income averaging were invalidly raised, but claims it should not have to pay compensation because it does not hold a common law duty of care to welfare recipients…...

Monday, 2 March 2020

The Morrison Government is still not managing to present itself in a good light in 2020


Dissatisfaction with the Morrison Government appears to be widespread....


The offices were identified as a national call centre, service centre and administrative centre.

At the time Centrelink denied it was moving out of the region.

But less than three months later, on 22 Februrary 2020, Centrelink announced it was indeed closing its Tweed Heads office.

Branches at Newcastle and Newport in New South Wales and Mornington in Victoria will also close their doors.

This news was reported as far away as the UK:

Some offices will be replaced with a so-called 'agency' or kiosk that will be staffed by one person.

Each day more than 66,000 people walk into Centrelink offices around the country.

This is being dwarfed by the amount of people who access government services online, with half a million people logging into the MyGov website each day.

Former opposition leader Bill Shorten has claimed the closing of some Centrelink locations is a move by the government to cover costs in other areas at the expense of citizens.

'This government's more interested in band aiding a dodgy budget surplus and it's going to do it by shafting everyday Centrelink users,' Mr Shorten said.

Services Australia, which oversees Centrelink, said in its annual report that it is trying to 'maximise the benefits of digital capabilities while reducing the costs of administering payments'…..

In Mornington, Mayor Sam Hearn told 9 News that he is furious. He says 35,000 people in the area could be worse off when the local branch closes at the end of the next month. Mr Hearn is now urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to intervene.

Given Mornington is in Australian Minister for Health, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet & Liberal MP for Flinders Greg Hunt’s electorate, the mayor’s fury may yet be translated into action by his local member who appears to have been as much in the dark about these closure as everyone else.

However, the residents of Tweed Heads and environs have little chance of their dismay registering with Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook, ‘Scotty From Marketing’ Morrison, as Tweed Heads is in a federal electorate which has been held by the same Labor MP for the last fifteen years and six federal elections.

The Daily Examiner, 22 February 2020:

DAVE and Jan Binskin are in quarantine in “a sh-thole” in Darwin. After being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship where two people died and 620 people tested positive for coronavirus, the Casino couple and 170 other Australians are in another 14 days’ quarantine in a mining compound.

They were on the ship in Japan when the Australian Government notified them they could return to Australia, but face further quarantine.

The conditions at the compound are terrible, Mr Binskin said. “Morrison conned us. They didn't prepare for us and the people opposite us didn't even have water for six hours,” he said.

Their quarantine sounds more like a prison.

They locked us into an area with double fences around us and then decided it was a fire risk and took down the fences,” he said.

The Binskins were excited to be going back to Australia, he said, but conditions were worse than on the boat.

They have single beds, the room is unclean, the TVs don’t work and they’re not allowed to have alcohol, Mr Binskin said.

We were told they didn't want the old people drinking and falling over,” he said.

We can’t use the pool, we don't even have a garbage bin and some people don’t even have bed linen.” The couple tested negative for coronavirus.

The government has forgotten about us,” Mr Binskin said in a flat voice. With nothing to do in the compound, Mr Binskin said his wife Jan liked knitting and providing her with wool and needles would help.

It’s against human rights,” he said.

Had they disembarked in Japan they would have been free to leave, but were told they would be looked after in Australia.

They didn’t prepare for us,” Mr Binskin said…...

He said many people at the compound had received letters from their local member of parliament.“We’ve heard nothing from Kevin Hogan (Member for Page),” Mr Binskin said.

ABC News, 23 February 2020:

The Country Women's Association (CWA) has slammed the Federal Government over its drought assistance, describing the latest funding announcement as "disappointing, infuriating, insulting and disrespectful".

But the CWA said despite repeatedly seeking more federal funding for its drought programs since September, it only learned of the voucher announcement on Wednesday evening.

"It was a total disregard, it's disrespectful ... it would have been nice to have been consulted," national president Tanya Cameron said.

"It's very disappointing. It's actually infuriating. It's very annoying. I'm really quite angry.

"It's quite insulting and it's disrespectful to an organisation that has been around as long as ours has."

The CWA has written to the Government to say it will not be participating in the outreach program as it is currently proposed.

It said its state branches did not support the process of administering $500 vouchers at public events, such as barbecues or roadshows, as they understood the Government intended.

"We've explained to the Federal Government on a number of occasions very clearly why, for NSW, the vouchers don't work," CWA NSW chief executive Danica Leys said.

"I don't think the provision of assistance in this way should be tied to having to attend an event to get it."

In New South Wales, the CWA has distributed more than $16 million of drought aid in recent years, directly depositing funding in the recipients' bank accounts.

"People are given the dignity and respect to make the decision they need to make," Ms Leys said of the CWA system.

"Obviously someone in the federal bureaucracy thinks they know better how to get it out.

"If they know how to get it out, then they should perhaps think about doing it themselves before verballing us and telling us that they're partnering with us.

Ms Ley said there were many questions around the logistics of how people would get the vouchers.

"We absolutely support further investment into drought-affected communities, and vouchers can be helpful for some people, but a $500 voucher at the outset is quite minimal in nature," she said.

"That is not what is needed ... not to sound ungrateful, but more than that is needed."……

Sunday, 9 February 2020

State of Play in Scott Morrison's Personal War On The Poor And Vulnerable: at least 9,600 angry people are taking on the federal government over 'robodebt'


These emails are just two examples of correspondance which has seen the light of day, concerning the legality of Morrison Coalition Government's Dept. of Human Services-Centrelink income compliance program or 'robodebt', since government made admissions in Amarto v The Commonwealth and was notified of an intent by certain persons to commence a class action arguing that the Commonwealth has taken money from Centrelink recipients unjustly.











The emails indicate the federal government's knowledge that sole use of the automated data matching system to calculate a 'robobebt' was unlawful. 

However they do not indicate exactly when the federal government became aware of this fact and Minister for Government Service & Liberal MP for Fadden Stuart Robert is refusing to disclose the exact date - in large measure because at least 9,600 people have now registered to take part in a class action being undertaken by Gordon Legal.

This class action asks the Federal Court of Australia not just to rule on the legality of 'robodebt', but also to determine whether the so-called collection fees levied by Centrelink should be refunded, whether those who have repaid all or part of those amounts should be paid interest and, whether the persons affected are entitled to compensation for any distress or inconvenience caused.

Gordon Legal has said it is pursuing the class action despite the government’s backdown, given that Centrelink has not promised to return the money taken from its clients nor promised to provide compensation for inconvenience and distress.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Centrelink lives up to its growing reputation for incompetence


The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 2019:


Confused and angry locals doing it tough in bushfire-ravaged NSW towns have been denied government relief payments due to outdated maps and technicalities.
Upset residents told The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Nine News they applied for the $1000 tax-free disaster recovery payment, only for Centrelink to knock it back because their "guide maps" showing the fire zone were out of date.

And several workers on the NSW South Coast whose employers have closed or reduced staffing levels due to a combination of fires, power outages, road closures and evacuations said they were also rejected by Centrelink.
Mogo resident Melinda Evans said she had been told by four Centrelink workers she was "not in the area [affected by bushfires] ... They're looking at their own map but if you look around here you can tell we're in the thick of it".

On New Year's Eve, fire tore through her rural property, destroying sheds and fences and affecting the health of Ms Evans' young son Michael.
"His breathing's terrible, he's stuffy, he's got a cough. There's nothing else we can do about it, there's nowhere else we can go."....
Read the full article here.

Monday, 9 December 2019

How brand names are faring in Australia in 2019 - best and worst list


Every year the Brand Institute releases its National Reputation Health Report which is a quantitative study of Australia’s 100 most recognisable companies, devised to measure the reputation of leading brands and companies with a presence in Australia.

The 2019 report is based on a survey of 2,000 respondents who views on brand image, operations, products and services, social responsibility, innovation, communication, financial performance and customer values are sought.

These are the overall brand rankings for 2019:
100 reputations in order of level of community respect9News, 5 December 2019

Top 10 Most Respected Company Reputations in Australia 2019

1. Google - technology
2. Bunnings - retail
3. Samsung - technology
4. Apple - technology
5. Qantas - airlines
6. Woolworths - grocery/supermarket
7. Microsoft - technology
8. Toyota - automative
9. Office Works - retail
10. RSPCA - charity/non-profit

Top 10 Least Respected Company Reputations in Australia 2019

1. Centrelink - services (at -29 this brand also comes third last when assessed for social responsibility & at -26 is considered the poorest run corporation)
2. Adani - natural resources
3. Tiger Airways - airlines
4. Monsanto - other
5. Malaysia Airways - airlines
6. Exxon - natural resources
7. EA Games - retail
8. dodo - telecommunications
9. Zara - retail
10. NBN - telecommunications

It is worth noting that media giant News Corp was the 15th least respected brand name in Australia

According to 9News, 5 December 2019:

In the battle of the retail giants, Woolworths in 6th beat Coles in 11th spot while Kmart came in at 19th ahead of Aldi in 20th......

Bendigo Bank took out 55th place before the big four was lead by Westpac in 56th, CBA 61st, ANZ 70th and NAB 73rd.

IGA was the only bank to place in the top half of the list, coming in 44th position.

But it was Centrelink who came in dead last position after a damaging year of revelations about its disastrous debt recovery program, known as robodebt.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Australian Government admits that it has acted unlawfully since July 2016 with regard to the treatment of debt under its Centrelink income compliance program


On 27 November 2019 the Federal Court of Australia ruled in Amato v The Commonwealth of Australia that the use of data matching between Centrelink and Australia Taxation Office (ATO) records was not capable of providing proof that a debt exists under the Dept of Human Services/Centrelink Income Compliance Program ('robodebt') if that data matching was the only method used to establish such a debt. Therefore the debt was invalid.

The court also ruled that it followed that the garnishee notice given to the ATO was invalid and that the necessary preconditions conditions for imposition of a 10 per cent debt recovery fee were not met.  

The Federal Court made these orders, agreed to by both parties, after the Australian Government conceded that the averaging process using ATO income data to calculate the robodebt was unlawful.

Victoria Legal Aid has posted an explainer of this robotdebt case and its implications for other people who received a debt notice from July 2016 onwards.

Faced with three court cases, including a class action, on 19 November 2019 the Morrison Government finally admitted that automated data matching was a flawed tool, after mainstream media discovered and published the details of departmental email admissions to compliance staff. 

However, the Minister for Government Services has stated that government has no intention of abandoning this data matching scheme entirely. So welfare recipients must wait on the outcome of the class action in the hope that the Morrison Government will finally end its war on the poor and vulnerable.

The question remains as to how long has the Morrison Government has known it was acting unlawfully given it has finally admitted to receiving legal advice to that effect.

Friday, 22 November 2019

ROBODEBT: it's wonderful how the threat of legal action can energize the Morrison Government


Faced with three court cases which will inevitably expose the shaky ground on which the Centrelink income compliance program - aka robodebt - was built in July 2016, the Morrison Government now makes a limited, tactical response ahead of court hearings.

ABC News, 19 November 2019:

The Federal Government is immediately halting a key part of the controversial robodebt scheme to recover debts from welfare recipients and will freeze some existing debts, in what appears to be a major backdown in the operation of the scheme.
In an urgent email circulated to all Department of Human Services compliance staff today, seen by 7.30, the general manager of the debt appeal division wrote:
"The department has made the decision to require additional proof when using income averaging to identity over payments.
"This means the department will no longer raise a debt where the only information we are relying on is our own averaging of Australia Taxation Office income data."
The averaging process has long been one of the most controversial parts of the scheme.
Legal groups have said that it causes inaccuracies in the debt amounts, and wrongly shifts the burden of proof onto alleged debtors.
The email also sets out that the department would undertake a sweeping review of all debts where averaging was used.
"Customer compliance division will methodically work through previous debts identified as part of the online compliance program and respond to their requests for clarification," it said.
The department will also be writing to affected customers.
"For customers who are affected, the department will freeze debt recovery action as CCD identifies them and looks at each debt. The department will also write to affected customers to let them know," the email said.
7.30 has contacted the Minister for Government Services and the Department of Human Services for a response.

The Australian Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert was very careful in his wording of the change in approach to 'debt' collection as was wording on the Department of Human Services website.

It appears that little is altered with regard to robotdebt unless individual welfare recipients fall into the category of a) never having engaged with DHS/Centrelink after having received an initial notice informing them of an "income discrepancy"; b) also ignored any followup letters/emails
/texts/phone calls and c) whose alleged debt did not occur in a time period for which Centrelink still retains all documents concerning cash transfers made to the individual recipient.

It is only this category of welfare recipients who has never offered verbal or written information concerning the alleged debt, therefore they are the only persons who by Mr. Robert's reckoning may have had their alleged debt solely calculated by flawed data matching with the Australian Taxation Office.

The number of people who remain in this category after DHS/Centrelink's debt recovery program has been running for more than three years is not known - it could be as little as est. 6,500 or as many as est. 600,000 individuals.

Make no mistake, the Morrison Government will not easily abandon this lucrative stitch up of the poor and vulnerable.

In the 2018-19 financial year alone the total debt from income compliance activity was valued at $885.8 million and the value since the program began now totals $1.86 billion.

BACKGROUND

The Monthly, 19 November 2019:

Asher Wolf, one of the original grassroots campaigners against the robodebt program, says the government’s move is tactical. “Don’t trust DHS to act in good faith not to ramp up robodebt again. If you back off from challenging the government – for even a minute – on mendacious data-matching schemes, they’ll slide right back into old patterns of cruelty.”
Today’s move could even endanger the government’s projected return to surplus, which relies on some $2.1 billion in prospective debt recoveries under the robodebt program over the 2019–20 to 2021–22 period. “The Coalition’s AAA credit rating is balanced off raising preposterous, erroneous, illegal debts,” says Wolf. “I have no doubt the Coalition will come after the same people they always attempt to hurt: the poor and the vulnerable.”
Gordon Legal, website, 19 November 2019:
You may be aware that the so-called Robodebt issue has been widely reported in the media and has been the subject of both a Parliamentary Inquiry and a report from the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government does not appear to accept that the Debt Notices, issued by Centrelink on its behalf are invalid and that it has an obligation to repay the money it has already collected under the Robodebt Scheme.
Unless the Commonwealth agrees to change its position then our current view is that people with a claim of the kind broadly described above should pursue their rights by commencing a Group or Class Action.
ABC News, 17 September 2019:

A class action will be launched against the Government over the so-called robodebt scandal, arguing the Government's automated debt system is unlawful.

Key points:

  • Lawyers will argue the Government could not rely on the robodebt algorithm to collect money
  • The action will seek both repayment of falsely claimed debts and compensation for affected people, lawyers say
  • The Opposition says the robodebt billing practices are "verging on extortion"
Opposition government services spokesman Bill Shorten announced the action, which will be brought by Gordon Legal, and comes after sustained pressure on the Government over the system.
Peter Gordon, a senior partner at the law firm, said the collection of money based solely on a computer algorithm was unlawful.
"The Commonwealth has used a single, inadequate piece of data — the robodebt algorithm — and used it to seize money and penalise hundreds of thousands of people," he said
Read the full article here.

Victoria Legal Aid, 8 September 2019:

The Federal Court has been told that Centrelink has wiped the debt at the centre of a second test case against its robo-debt scheme. The case will go to a hearing in early December.
Our client, Deanna Amato has been told her robo-debt of $2754 had been wiped, after a recalculation process found the true overpayment to be just $1.48.
‘I'm happy that I don't have a big debt looming over me anymore, but on the other hand, I'm stunned that it was recalculated so easily after I took legal action’, said Deanna. 
‘Centrelink will make you jump through hoops to prove your innocence, but it turns out they were capable of finding out if my reporting was correct and that I didn't owe them anything like what the robo-debt claimed I owed. It makes me question the system even more’, she said.
The 33-year-old local government employee says Centrelink has refunded her over $1700, after they took her full tax return earlier this year. At the time, she had never spoken to anyone from Centrelink about the supposed debt.
‘It was scary when Centrelink took my tax return out of the blue. I had no idea what my rights were, or if Centrelink even had this kind of power over my money, so I turned to legal aid for advice.
‘Now that they have wiped the debts of both Victoria Legal Aid cases, it makes me wonder how many people have paid supposed debts that were completely inaccurate.  I hate to think of more people suffering because of incorrect calculations.
People may be handing over money they don't even owe, because they're too afraid, or don't have the means, to challenge them. That's why I think the system needs to change’ said Deanna.
Rowan McRae, Executive Director of Civil Justice Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid said our legal challenges to the scheme continued – ‘We cannot accept a system that is so clearly flawed and causing overwhelming hardship to the most disadvantaged people in our community.’
‘We are contacted every day by people who are feeling overwhelmed by this system that puts the onus on them to disprove debts. It is important that a court looks at the lawfulness of the process Centrelink relies on to decide that people owe them money’. said Rowan.
Deanna says she is keen to have the court look at the decisions that led to the debt being raised. ‘It turns out, when I was receiving Centrelink assistance, I reported my income, yet they still were able to raise a debt of almost $3000 and take my tax return. The fact that Centrelink wiped my robo-debt, does not change my feelings about this court case going ahead. The robo-debt process needs to be seriously examined,’ she said.
‘If I hadn't taken this legal action, I don't think Centrelink would have ever realised the problem with my so called ‘debt’, Deanna said.
Deanna Amato’s case will go to a hearing in December with our first client Madeleine Masterton’s to be scheduled for hearing after that case is determined. [my yellow highlighting]