CONTENT WARNING: The following article discusses mental health and suicide. If you, or someone you know, is in need of crisis support, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. In emergency situations, please don't hesitate to call 000.

In what’s an absolutely shocking indictment on the Liberal Party’s handling of the welfare system, new Government data confirms over 2,000 Australians, many of them vulnerable and at high risk, died after receiving one of Centrelink‘s highly contentious robo-debt notices.

The figures, released by the Department of Human Services and first obtained this afternoon by Triple J’s Hack, paint a grim and damning picture of the Coalition-backed robo-debt scheme; one that deliberately targeted the weak and vulnerably and callously went after them with utterly tragic consequences.

Of the 2,030 people that died after receiving a robo-debt notice, some 663 people were officially classified by the system as “vulnerable,” meaning the DHS had recorded a history of issues like mental illness, drug use, or domestic violence with each individual. That amount only covers those that the Centrelink system saw fit to classify as vulnerable; a title the system makes very difficult to obtain, particularly with regards to mental health, which is often underreported by individuals.

776 of the 2,030 recorded deaths were people aged 45 and under. A seriously worrying 429 were under the age of 35.

The average debt amount the robo-recovery system claimed the recipients had was $2,377.

The data also revealed that 520 of the deceased people were receiving the Disability Support Pension, while 503 were on Newstart payments. Those people were still receiving payments, or were active in the system, at the time of their deaths.

The automated robo-debt system began in July 2016, and the deaths occurred during a period stretching from its inception until October 2018.

The highly criticised system has issued some 410,000 notices since it began operation, with 70,000 of them subsequently written off. Those who received the notices, often for staggering amounts, reported increased stress and anxiety as a result of being put through the system which tends to presume guilt and requires months – if not years – of bureaucratic hurdle-jumping in order to prove innocence and erase debts, even in the event the notice was issued in complete error.

You can read more about today’s data release via Hack.

UPDATE: Department of Human Services spokesperson Michael Keenan denied any link between robo-debts and customer deaths in a statement issued to PEDESTRIAN.TV late this afternoon. In part, the statement read:

Any suggestion that the Department of Human Services’ debt recovery efforts have contributed to customer deaths is simply not supported by the facts or statistics.

The Department sent more than 900,000 debt letters to individuals during the period 1 July 2016 to 31 October 2018.

A total of 2030 of those who received a letter died during the same period, which represents a death rate of 0.21 per cent. This rate was more than ten times lower than the overall death rate for all of the Department’s customers during the same period, which was 3.64 per cent.

Keenan was also at pains to stress the automated debt recovery system was “reasonable, lawful, and fair.”

Again, over 70,000 robo-debt notices have been subsequently written off since the automated debt recovery system was put in place.

Source: Triple J Hack
Image: Getty Images / Matt King