Aussie welfare recipients hit with debt notices
As we recently reported, a number of Centrelink recipients – past and present – have recently been accused by Centrelink of welfare fraud, and hit with debts for repayment.
- In one case, a low-income single mother says Centrelink wrongly issued her with a $24,000 welfare debt just before Christmas.
- In another, a youth allowance recipient who believes he has been falsely accused of a debt of over $4700. So far he’s spent about 8 hours and 10 phone calls to Centrelink trying to formally complain and challenge it.
So why might Centrelink think you owe them money?
- Late last year Centrelink implemented an automated data matching system which compares the fortnightly income welfare recipients reported to Centrelink against other records, such as their tax returns with the ATO.
- If this new system detects a discrepancy with your income amounts, Centrelink will declare you’ve been overpaid.
- However many believe the system is full of flaws, and most of the debts don’t exist.
As the victims and stories are mounting, protests are building
- The media continues to be filled with tales of battling Aussies who’ve received debt repayment demands from Centrelink following implementation of the new system.
- The Federal Opposition have labelled the system as ‘crude and inaccurate’ and are leading calls for it to be scrapped. Labor are calling for Centrelink to urgently review the process.
- Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney says her office has been ‘inundated by calls and emails from honest people who have been wrongly accused of fraud’.
- She has asked the government to suspend the system, saying that it’s not right or fair that the government is considering people to be guilty until they prove themselves innocent.
- IT experts say that Centrelink are using ‘idiotic’ assumptions, and the Australian Privacy Foundation have described the situation as ‘astounding’, accusing Centrelink of abandoning procedural fairness.
- And some of Centrelink’s own staff have turned whistleblowers, confiding that of the hundreds of challenges they’ve received from welfare recipients accused of overpayments, only a handful have turned out to be legitimate debts.
But Centrelink aren’t listening!
- However despite the public outcry Centrelink are standing firm.
- They maintain the system is working ‘incredibly well’ and insist that they’re confident in it.
- The new system has resulted in the number of identified potential welfare overpayments to shoot up from about 20,000 each year to the same number in an average week. No wonder Centrelink are continuing to stand by it!
Challenging Centrelink is no easy task!
- Those hit with a Centrelink debt notice who want to challenge it have to spend countless hours locating and supplying documents including bank statements, pay slips and letters from their employers.
- The system can investigate as far back as 2010, so in many cases people are having to come up with pay slips from 5 years ago to prove Centrelink wrong and challenge their debt notices.
So what can you do? The official outcry
- The issue has spiralled to the point that a dedicated website – Not My Debt – has been established to help victims share their stories.
- The hashtag #notmydebt is also trending, with countless affected Aussies sharing their debt stories.
Have you been hit with a letter or debt notice from Centrelink? What do you think of the new data matching system? Tell us what you think and share your stories.