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Centrelink accused of “disability bullying” after man receives a $15,000 debt

Centrelink accused of “disability bullying” after man receives a $15,000 debt

Centrelink has been accused of “disability bullying” after an intellectually disabled man was told he owed a $15,000 “robodebt”.

Christopher Pascoe, a 53-year-old man with epilepsy and an intellectual disability, received a debt of $15,537.62 from the Department of Human Services in July 2018.

The department alleged he declared a lower income than he actually earned between 2013 and 2016.

The ABC’s 7.30 reported that Christopher does not declare his income to Centrelink, which is a common practice for people with a disability that limits their ability to handle their own finances.

“The unfairness in the fact that Christopher knew nothing about it,” his mother, Yvonne Pascoe said.

“The facts were just presented to us about 18 months ago as, you know, this is a complete deal.”

After she spent “hundreds of hours” on phone calls seeking explanation from Centrelink, the welfare agency later admitted it had made mistakes in calculating the debt against Christopher. In a further debt letter dated February 2019, Christopher’s debt was reduced to a little under $11,000.

“It’s really disability bullying to me because it’s just gone on,” she said.

After 7.30 reached out to the department for comment, Christopher received a letter from a Centrelink legal officer offering to waive the remainder of his debt.

However, Yvonne said she was still undecided whether to accept the offer.

“It seems unreal and that’s why I’m being, I suppose, a bit mistrustful. I want it explained to me in detail the why’s and how’s of how this has happened and who has decided to do this,” she said.

“I just can’t understand how it could have gone on so long and no one’s happened to notice.”

Earlier this year, two federal court cases were launched against the automated Centrelink debt – also known as robodebt – scheme, spearheaded by Victoria Legal Aid.

“More than 500,000 robo-debts have now been raised by a process that is opaque and unfair,” the firm’s executive director Rowan McRae said.

“We know it’s unfair … we also think the scheme is unlawful and we’d like a court to test that.”

Last month, Bill Shorten announced that he will be pursuing a class action suit against the scheme with law firm Gordon Legal. “The scheme – including its reverse onus of proof – is at best legally dubious and should rightly have its legality determined by a court,” Shorten said.