As the Centrelink debacle continues and the government resolutely refuses to pause the tide of debt notices – many of which describe debts that are not legitimate – it’s understandable that people would be looking for blood. According to the Australian Lawyers Alliance, those issued with inaccurate debts may be able to sue Centrelink.
This follows an announcement by the Commonwealth ombudsman that it had initiated an investigation of the program to determine whether its debt collection practices and crossmatching system with the Australian Tax Office was legitimate.
Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesperson Greg Barnes told The Guardian that Centrelink owes its customers a duty of care which may well have been breached:
It seems to me that there’s been such a systemic failure in the way this has been put together … that there is potentially an argument that [Centrelink] has breached its duty of care to its clients. If a person suffers a financial loss as a result of that, they may have a cause of action.
It is expected that any review of the program – be it by the ombudsman or independently – will include as part of its focus those who paid an inaccurate debt without challenging it. These are the clients one would expect to have a significant claim that they have suffered a financial lost.
Despite calls from the Opposition to suspend the debt collection, social services minister Christian Porter is still defending the program – on behalf of his colleague Alan Tudge, who is on leave. He says the debts are “fairly and legitimately calculated after a very staged and methodical process,” despite strong evidence that this ‘methodical program’ involves chucking a pretty wide net over welfare recipients past and present.
Barns suggests that those who have been targeted with large debts may have individual cases against the government, whereas those targeted with smaller debts may have grounds for a class-action claim.
Source: The Guardian.
Photo: Getty Images.