Australia

Federal government to repay 470,000 wrongly issued robodebts worth $720 million

(AAP Image/Julian Smith) Source: AAP

The federal government has committed to repaying all wrongly issued robodebts.

More than $720 million raised through the Morrison government's controversial robodebt program will be refunded.

About 470,000 debts were raised through the defunct welfare scheme, which is now the subject of a class action challenge.

"Services Australia will now put in place the mechanisms needed to start making refunds, including how affected customers are advised of next steps," Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said on Friday.

"Consultation will occur with stakeholders, including the commonwealth ombudsman, and clear communication is a priority, so people understand what it means for them."

Interest payments and recovery fees will also be refunded.

The controversial system was ruled unlawful last year, with the Federal Court saying Centrelink could not have been satisfied the debt was correct.

The government wound back the scheme prior to the court decision.

The scheme matched Australian Tax Office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.

People were automatically contacted if Centrelink thought they might owe more than $1,000.

One in five debt letters sent were based on false information.

Labor’s government services spokesperson, Bill Shorten, said the government’s “house of make-believe” has now “been torn down”.

“They will still have to account to the families who lost adult children to suicide because of robodebt, and for the various other harms, stresses and inconveniences caused,” he said.

Greens spokesperson for community services, Rachel Siewert, said the repayment announcement marked a “historic day”.

“I am overwhelmed thinking of the untold suffering that this illegal scheme has caused,” she said.

The previous Labor government introduced a similar process in 2011 but had each case reviewed by a staff member at the Department of Human Services, while the coalition moved to a fully-automated system in 2016.

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