The first that I heard that I had a debt was when the debt collection agency contacted me in January 2016.The debt collection agency gave me 48 hours to contact Centrelink to investigate why I had a debt. When I called Centrelink on 5 January 2016, I was told that Centrelink had sent me several postal letters, none of which I had received as I was no longer at the address Centrelink held for me. I had received a vague text message from Centrelink telling me to access MyGov, which I did only to find that there was nothing there. I assumed it was a mistake and they had sent the message to the wrong number as it had been so long since I had received any benefits. None of this information about the employment review, assessment, or outcome is available to me online, despite having a MyGov account, which is linked to Centrelink.
I have felt upset that I was made out to be in the wrong - of defrauding the system and having a debt, when I had declared my income correctly. Centrelink had me working for the full financial year, when I had only worked five months of the year, presumably why it had flagged my income. When I was contacted by the debt collector, I was shaking and was unable to sleep all night worried that it would jeopardise my new job as a senior public servant and my credit rating. My partner stayed home with me comforting me as I worked on how to prove that I had done the right thing, gathering evidence from past employers and working on how to submit it to Centrelink.
When I spoke to Centrelink they told me that I should fax the supporting documents to Centrelink as I did not have the level of access to the online portal that would allow me to upload documents as it had been so long since I had been on benefits. I couldn't even prove easily that I was in the right! A friend sent through the documents to Centrelink via fax, as otherwise I would have to go in to a Centrelink branch, prove my identity, get the level of access (if it worked) and then go back home to upload it myself presuming that I could access the system.
It has been a very traumatic process, that has taken time and effort and grief to sort out.
It has been very poorly handled, with no attempt made to get in touch with me to find out the reasons behind the supposed overpayment. They had not only my correct address (from the ATO via MyGov) and my email and mobile phone, yet all communications is via letter. It's appalling that the first I hear about a debt is from a debt collector who actually bothered to get in touch with me, for particular reasons, but nonetheless...
When I spoke to the lovely Centrelink officer (I have nothing but respect for those officers who are doing a tough and thankless job), she said that it sounded like the reason why I had an alleged debt was because Centrelink had incorrect dates in the system. There should be a manual check by a review officer before it goes this far. The automated system doesn't work, trying to marry a fortnightly system (Centrelink) with the annual system (ATO), which more often than not raises fictitious debts.