Robodebt victim refunded more than $56,000 in erroneous Centrelink debts | Centrelink debt recovery

A victim of the Coalition government’s botched robodebt scheme has been refunded more than $56,000 in Centrelink debts later found to be unlawful.

Figures provided to the Greens senator Rachel Siewert through Senate estimates also reveal the administration of the refunds is tipped to cost $20m, which will come from an existing budget.

Services Australia, the agency that ran the robodebt program, revealed the largest refund it had processed to a customer as of 6 November was $56,828.37.

In response to Siewert’s questions, the agency also confirmed it had paid a $9,959.51 refund to a deceased estate, one of the 3,300 estates that are eligible for a refund. In total, those debts are worth $5m, Services Australia said.

Senate estimates has previously been told another victim, who received their payments on a cashless debit card, received a $30,000 refund.

Last month, the Morrison government reached a $1.2bn settlement with Gordon Legal, a law firm representing victims of the robodebt program.

This settlement included $112m in compensation, essentially interest payments on money unlawfully withheld from victims, as well as $721m in refunds that had already been announced in May.

The government also wiped about $400m in debts that could no longer be substantiated because they relied on income-averaging, a method to calculate debts that has since been found to be unlawful.

Siewert said she wanted to know “what process the government is undertaking to ensure that the over $5m that is owed to deceased estates is repaid”.

“This is yet another reason on a very long list of why we need a royal commission into the Morrison government’s illegal robodebt program.

“It’s an insult to the people who have lived with the trauma and anxiety of being pursed with illegal debt notices and to those who have lost loved ones that we have to basically pull teeth to find out what happened through the years that people on income support were relentlessly pursued by their own government.

The government accepted no liability in the settlement reached with Gordon Legal.

While the parties have agreed to the deal, it must be approved by a judge, and a case management hearing was held this week in the federal court.

Some victims have complained about the size of the settlement, which would equate to about $300 per person when shared between about 400,000.Those critics say they would have preferred to see the case go to trial.

However, it will be distributed depending on the size of the refund and how long the victim was without their money, meaning the compensation doled out will vary significantly.

It is expected the compensation will be paid next year.

Guardian Australia revealed in March that leaked advice showed the government would be forced to refund the victims two months before an official announcement was made.

The government backed down over the program in November last year, a week before it settled a separate court challenge brought by Victoria Legal Aid.

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