Hundreds of Central Coast households have been caught up in Centrelink’s “robo-debt” debacle which has left many of the region’s battling welfare recipients unfairly accused of cheating the system.
Students, single mothers, families and the disabled doing it tough have been left with massive bill shock since July last year as the Federal Government attempted to claw back billions of dollars in overpaid welfare benefits to help repair the budget.
The office of Dobell federal Labor MP Emma McBride has been inundated with hundreds of complaints, forcing her to dedicate a fulltime staffer to field the huge volume of inquiries from “stressed and frustrated” locals.
“One of the worst cases we’ve seen is an indigenous man with a disability who was unfairly asked to pay back $30,000,” Ms McBride said.
“The incompetence of this situation is so cruel and so is the effect it is having on individuals and families.”
Tuggerah resident Paul Gunter is just one of hundreds of Coasties unfairly swept up in the Centrelink mess.
The 27-year-old schoolteacher found himself seeking the help of Ms McBride’s office after receiving an $1100 debt notice in November and spending countless hours trying unsuccessfully to clear his name.
Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system picked up a discrepancy from 2013 when Mr Gunter was receiving Newstart Allowance to help support him during a teaching internship.
Crosschecks with Australian Taxation Office data showed Mr Gunter earnt an income in the same financial year, however, for a completely different period to when he claimed welfare.
“The government is stealing from people,” Opposition human services spokeswoman Linda Burney said.
A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said the Online Compliance Intervention program was designed to “protect the integrity of the Australian welfare system” and welfare recipients could request a review “at any time”.