Centrelink accused of issuing $14,500 robodebt to pensioner with intellectual impairment

Centrelink issued a $14,500 robodebt to a disability pensioner with an intellectual impairment and then failed to offer him support to deal with the alleged overpayment, a Senate inquiry has heard.

Katherine Boyle, the executive director of the Welfare Rights Centre, told a hearing into the controversial debt recovery scheme on Thursday that her organisation was helping the man to challenge the debt after being contacted by his mother.

Boyle said the man, known as Paul to protect his identity, lived independently from his mother in supported accomodation and earned a “modest income” from pushing trolleys at a supermarket. Paul’s mother was not his Centrelink nominee, so she was not notified when the debt was raised.

Last year, Paul received a $14,500 overpayment related to his disability support pension, Boyle said. He received no support from Centrelink to deal with the alleged overpayment and was only assisted by the Welfare Rights Centre when his mother learned of the debt.

“[The scheme] is exploitative of people with disabilities because they have no opportunity to really understand what’s going on,” Boyle said. “Paul was lucky his mum intervened and we could provide further assistance. If he didn’t have his mother or us he would be paying back that debt without it ever being properly established.

“There is no way Paul has deliberately underreported his income in any way.”