The lack of human involvement in Centrelink's debt recovery program is pushing vulnerable people "further into stress, anxiety and poverty" and a humane system must be found, the Tasmanian Council of Social Services believes.
TasCOSS made a submission to a Senate inquiry into Centrelink's compliance program in which it outlined its fears of the program expanding further and the disproportionate impact it was having on Tasmanians.
The robo-debt system automatically compares income declared to the Australian Tax Office against income declared to Centrelink, sending notices if discrepancies are detected.
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But the lack of human involvement in the system - which started in 2016 - continues to be a concern to TasCOSS.
"We further call for that system to be replaced with a fair and humane process to help those with a legitimate debt arrange a repayment plan that does not push them further into stress, anxiety and poverty," the submissions reads.
Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate, highest proportion of people with a disability, second lowest school retention rate, second lowest levels of digital access and among the highest proportion of people working part-time or casual.
TasCOSS believes these factors make Tasmanians particularly at risk of receiving sudden debt notices.
Arbitrary nature of debt notices adding stress for Tasmanians
Two personal Tasmanian stories were provided about the impact, confusion and lack of communication about the debts.
In one, the individual was given a robo-debt in 2016 which they appealed twice - the first appeal making it reduce, the second making it increase.
"I tried to do the maths but didn't have the information to do so," the submission reads.
"No one could explain to me how they got that figure. I don't know... in the end I give up.
"I had no idea. I just can't see a future. It's just day by day."
The repayments started at $80 per fortnight, but came down to $15 per fortnight. Centrelink then took $1100 from the person's tax refund.
In the second example, a Tasmanian took money out of their superannuation to help cover living costs while receiving Newstart.
Centrelink approved this, then gave the person a $4800 robo-debt.
After six months of arguing, the debt was eventually waived.
"I spent 50 hours on the phone and was asked for an itemised bill showing the debt. But they wouldn't give me one," the submission reads.
"They eventually waived it in July. I started talking to them about it in February. That was a very nasty and unnecessary stress and waste of time."
MPs 'deluged' with robo-debt stories
Labor originally brought in a system of matching ATO and Centrelink data to discover debts, but the coalition has since automated the process.
MPs across Australia have been "deluged" with robo-debt stories in the past few years, including Labor health spokesperson Chris Bowen, who said it was "clearly" having an impact on people's emotional wellbeing.
"Labor thinks that if you get overpaid, then there should be a mechanism for you to pay it back, but there should be human involvement and human interaction in doing that," he said.
"Robo-debt is simply an inhuman and inhumane way of dealing with it.
"People are being forced to repay money, or being told to repay money, which they simply don't owe, where there hasn't been an overpayment.
"The government doesn't seem to understand that that's the problem with it."
One in five robo-debt notices have been found to be incorrect. A class action is also being organised.
Centrelink is reportedly planning to widen the robo-debt program to meet budget requirements.
In July, Bass MHR Bridget Archer encouraged anyone who believes they have been incorrectly issued a robo-debt to contact her office.
"I would encourage anybody that has any of those sorts of issues, or feels that they are being unfairly or punitively disadvantaged in some way, to get in touch with me, to contact my office and I will be more than happy to see how I might be able to assist them individually," she said.