Disability advocates say expanding Centrelink’s debt recovery system to people on disability support will push clients who are already suicidal over the edge and “inundate” overstretched mental health services.
Grampians Disability Advocacy’s Fiona Tipping said she already has a caseload of people in Ballarat who are suicidal as a result of their disability support pensions being rejected or cancelled.
On Tuesday it was revealed the government plans to extend its controversial debt collection system to people on aged pensions and disability support pensions later this year.
“At the moment as a disability advocate I’m actually inundated with people where their disability support pensions are being rejected or cancelled,” Ms Tipping said.
“I’ve already got a caseload of people who are suicidal as a result of that, if we now then get people who are vulnerable mentally that are having false underpayments raised against them that is really going to exacerbate things and put a strain on services trying to address mental health issues and suicide in particular.”
The department intends to issue 900,000 debt notices by the end of the year and had “fully anticipated” a deluge of appeals before the system swung into action in July last year, a Centrelink insider told The Courier.
The government has earmarked $1.1 billion to come from over payments of the aged pension and a further $400 million from the disability support pension, its mid-year economic forecast shows.
Brown Hill Senior Citizens president Doreen Braybrook said the process was “mind boggling”.
“Not that you want to be greedy but you just ask for a fair deal really and it just seems quite unfair that people who are really battling (are affected) - and that's we're they’re hitting, the people battling.”
Ballarat MP Catherine King said Labor would refer the “robo-debt program" to a Senate Inquiry when parliament resumes next month.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said some changes would be made to the system but has routinely defended its effectiveness and resisted calls for it to be immediately suspended.
If you need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.