The government has claimed it does not owe welfare recipients a duty of care over the robodebt scandal and has denied alleged debtors were placed under “duress”, despite admitting in court documents that some debts were based on “false” assumptions, The Guardian reports.
As the Coalition refuses to provide its legal advice about the scheme to a Senate inquiry, documents filed in the federal court reveal the government has conceded that debts issued using tax office income summaries could “not be validly established” under the law.
But in the documents, obtained by Guardian Australia, the government argues it should not be required to pay compensation because social security law makes no mention of a need to exercise “due or reasonable care”.
While a federal court order striking out a Melbourne woman’s debt suggested the government now considers parts of the scheme unlawful, its defence to a class action filed by Gordon Legal represents its first public statement conceding that it issued potentially thousands of debts that were not valid under the law.
The debts considered unlawful are those in which Centrelink sought repayments from people based solely on the agency’s estimate of a person’s employment earnings, known as “income averaging”. In these cases, Centrelink did not obtain payslips or other evidence that could prove a person misreported their earnings.
In its defence to the class action, the Commonwealth admitted that in the case of the five lead applicants, income averaging was not “the same as their actual fortnightly income, and was not necessarily referable to or indicative of their actual income in any fortnight”.
And in such cases, the “fortnightly income assumption” relied on by Centrelink “was false”, the court documents say.
Fears of robo-debt ‘disaster’ repeat (Canberra Times)