Saturday, 18 February 2017

Centrelink robodebt victim suicides

Are you happy now Tudge and Porter, in that rarefied atmosphere inside your parliament bubble?

Sadly, a popular young man has suicided, his family and loved ones claiming it was an $18,000 Centrelink robodebt that pushed him over the edge. Like many of us he suffered mental illness; severe depression and panic attacks. He wasn't good with money because of this and completely unable to deal with the supposed debt. He bore the brunt of the robodebt system, getting harassed with continual letters and the outsourced merciless debt collectors that Centrelink let take over the debt, despite the fact that Centrelink records showed his vulnerable condition. 

I'd say it was only a matter of time before somebody suicided over this. Perhaps it's not even the first one, but it's the first one I've seen reported.

His girlfriend had begun screening his mail. The letters were too much. They were inducing panic. Rhys Cauzzo was 28 years old, a musician and florist living in Melbourne. Cauzzo suffered severe depression, for which he was medicated. It was a condition he shared with his mother. Late last year, he began receiving aggressive letters from a debt collection agency called Dun and Bradstreet. They represented the Department of Human Services, which demanded the “immediate” repayment of almost $18,000 paid to him by Centrelink. The letters made clear that failure to do so might trigger legal action, or the “garnishing” of his wages.

He was sick and incredulous. In a private notebook, he doodled a man with a gun in his mouth – behind the figure, instead of blood, was a spray of dollar signs. His girlfriend, Brit, tried to help, ensuring letters weren’t overlooked in Cauzzo’s increasing unwillingness to inspect them. Meanwhile, Cauzzo called his mother, Jenny Miller, who lived on the Sunshine Coast. The two were close, and during what she called his “dark times” she had often flown down to see him. “He rang me distressed,” she told me. “I told him he needed to go in and talk to them. And he did that. In the meantime, Dun and Bradstreet were making demands for money within seven days. People with severe depression don’t handle financial pressure. And these numbers didn’t make sense. He was always anal about keeping financial records.”

The anxiety wasn’t just with the amount owed, or the aggression with which it was demanded – it was the fact that the amount requested seemed fantastical. “It made absolutely no sense to him,” Brit says.

In January, in letters of demand seen by The Saturday Paper, the debt collection agency had revised its figure to $10,283.81. Neither Brit nor Jenny is sure why Centrelink had suddenly made a significant reduction to the alleged debt. Such revision has been frequent in the department’s so-called robo-debt system.

The debt collection agency visited Cauzzo’s home on January 3. They received no answer, and left a calling card in the letterbox: “Need to speak to you about an urgent matter.”

On January 26, Cauzzo went out with Brit and friends to see some bands. Brit says he was a “little distant” but otherwise fine. When they returned home, Brit and some housemates left to get dinner. Cauzzo stayed home. They were only gone an hour. When they returned, they found Cauzzo’s body. “He didn’t leave a note,” Brit tells me. “It wasn’t planned. It was a flip.” The Saturday Paper