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Illawarra pensioner caught up in Centrelink debt letter ‘disaster’

7 February 2017
Andrew Pearson
Illawarra Mercury

Whitlam MP Stephen Jones has used federal parliament’s first sitting day for 2017 to take aim at the government’s Centrelink debt recovery system “disaster”.

Mr Jones on Tuesday told the story of Margaret, a 77-year-old pensioner from his electorate, who received a debt notice of $467.44 as part of the automated system.

“After contacting Centrelink to correct the mistake, it [the debt] was increased to over $1300. She didn’t owe the government one single cent,” he said.

“Margaret retired in December 2010, did the right thing and reported her final income. Centrelink then claimed she had an unreported earning for the following year, when she was earning nothing.

“Without consultation, $100 was deducted from every pension payment for this fake debt – an absurd amount of a pensioner’s pay.”

Centrelink resolved the problem “after four months of stress”, he said. The government has said it would “continue to refine the process”.