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The Australian Government has promised to repay 470.000 people it unlawfully collected debts from between 2016 and 2019. Service Australia will refund $ 721 million from July.

More than half a million Australians received automated letters from Centrelink, which told them to pay back welfare payments they had allegedly been overpaid. Collection of these 'Robo'-debts, many of which were collected in error due to the automated system's reliance on an average fortnightly income rather than the recipient's actual or reported income, was found to be unlawful by court order in November last year.


Read more: What you need to know about Centrelink and COVID-19


The letters, which pressured recipients to pay within 21 days or potentially incur further fees, caused many vulnerable and marginalised people, including people with disabilities, carers, students, single parents and jobseekers financial and psychological distress.

Many people paid back the alleged overpayments because they went back six years or more, and the Centrelink website had only asked them to keep payslips for six months. Most people, however, simply could not afford to pay the large sums demanded of them, which has caused financial hardship and emotional and psychological harm and has been linked to some suicides.

According to the Guardian, Disability Support Pensioners (DSPs) were increasingly forced to pay back the alleged welfare overpayments with disability support pensioners alone paying back $7.7m in robodebts throughout 2018-19, up from $2.3m in 2017-18. In the six months to 31 December 2019, they had already paid back $7.2m.

If you have received a Robodebt, you can expect your payment to be reimbursed from July this year. You don't need to do anything.

In Question Time today, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for any 'hurt or harm' caused by the robodebt scheme.

"I would apologise for any hurt or harm in the way that the Government has dealt with that issue and to anyone else who has found themselves in those situations," Scott Morrison said.

Read more or hear the Prime Minister's words from ABC News

Financial aid, legal aid and counselling are available for people with disability. To find a service in your area, search our online directory or call our information officers for free on 1800 029 904.


Read more: The Conversation: Government to repay 470.000 unlawful robodebts in what might be Australia's biggest-ever financial backdown.


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