Australians who paid the government money through the controversial robo-debt scheme have been reimbursed $545 million.
Department of Social Services officials told a Senate inquiry on Aug. 17 the $545 million figure amounted to about 80 percent of cases.
About 338,000 people have been reimbursed or had their debt wiped.
The automated welfare recovery scheme matched Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink data to claw back overpaid welfare payments.
It was ruled unlawful last year, with the Federal Court saying Centrelink could not have been satisfied the debt was correct.
The Morrison government announced in May it would repay all debts, estimated to cost about $721 million.
Department secretary Kathryn Campbell acknowledged the scheme caused hurt and harm, and that it was “legally insufficient.”
“I believe there were many people who felt uneasy, frustrated, had some difficulty managing through this system,” she said.
Labor senator Deborah O’Neill read Campbell a letter from a mother whose son died after receiving multiple letters through the system saying he owed up to $17,000.
“Of course we apologise for the hurt and harm caused to that family. That is a tragic story. No one wants that to happen,” Campbell said.
Senator O’Neill read another letter from a mother whose son also died after being told he owed thousands of dollars to Centrelink.
Campbell said the department had apologised for any harm caused.
“I’m sorry for any death,” she said.
The scheme is facing a class action lawsuit.
The previous Labor government introduced a similar process in 2011 but had each case reviewed by a department staff member, while the coalition moved to a fully-automated system in 2016.
Centrelink’s debt recovery system is currently on pause until October.
Income averaging is no longer used as the sole proof for a possible debt.
Rebecca Gredley in Canberra