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Centrelink staff cannot change reporting dates once a debt has been raised

Debt amount: 
$8500
Date debt issued: 
Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Period debt occurred: 
July 2013 to June 2015
Payment Type: 
Newstart Allowance
Appealing Debt?: 
Yes in process
Tell us about your debt and how has this affected you? e.g. anxiety levels, financial and accommodation stress: 

I am one of the people who received a demand to repay $8500 due to my apparent failure to report my income correctly.

I received an online letter asking for me to confirm my 2013-14 and 2014-15 income with the figures Centrelink had been provided by the tax department. I pulled out my payment summaries and looked at the information on the screen the totals matched. As it was identified as the ‘Tax Year’ and matched my payment summaries I thought nothing of it other than it was an odd request as the income had previously been reported accurately while I was working. 

A few weeks later I received the bill. I called Centrelink and explained I had not under-reported my income when applying in Jan 2015 for Newstart once unemployed. I then discovered that although I had confirmed my income as correct, during the 1-7-14 to 30-6-15 period, I did not realise I was supposed to change the dates to match actual period worked. I was only working until 24-12-14 and had earned the income in the first 6 months of the tax year. There was no instruction to put in the actual dates worked, one was simply asked to confirm the tax figures were accurate. 

One would assume this would be a simple thing to correct…not so. 

I had earnt a high salary in the 6 month period and it was accurately reported. But the system deemed me to be earning income over a 12 month period Jan 2015 – June 2015 and that I had not declared the Jan 2015 – June 2015 income while also claiming Centrelink.

The staff attempted to assist me to change the dates as one is supposed to be able to do so but it was soon discovered they cannot be changed because a debt has already been raised. The issue now has to go through a full administrative review process. Even though staff can look at my payslips (yes I had to print off two years’ worth) and know I do not owe the money nothing can be done.

Local office staff in Katoomba tell me that they are swamped with these and every one they looked at is incorrect. They cannot fix them as they must all go through the review panel now to confirm it is incorrect. In the meantime payment of the debt must still be made but they reduced the payment that I must make to the minimum of $15 per fortnight for 3 months. 3 months is the longest time they can reduce it for, and the staff member expressed the hope that my review would take place before then.

So all the money the Government is hoping to claw back is non-existent in a lot of these cases, and is actually costing Centrelink more in trying to sort out the mess. 

I am currently on Austudy not Newstart so I sincerely hope they can sort it out in 3 months before it causes me more issues. 

Having worked in the past on major computer projects for Government such as Unclaimed Money and Payroll Tax System for NSW Office of State Revenue I can say the Centrelink System has had many failures but I suspect this one is being kept very quiet. They should pull the plug on it and re-instate payments until they can get something more accurate.

I am happy to prove my case and provide any paperwork required. But at almost 64 years old and suffering from high blood pressure and a heart condition I can assure you the stress was overwhelming at first. Not to mention the lengthy phone wait times and expenses of getting to Centrelink offices to provide my evidence.

How do you feel about the way the Government has handled this process?: 

Dishonest to the extreme. Their continued denial of the issues and system failure is in my opinion deliberate lies (they will have figured this out months ago). I believe this is about a budget fudge. Their accounting will show a large amount of money owed back to them to offset and will make the figures look good for a while regardless of them being false. Pensioners and people already under tremendous stress are being used as necessary collateral damage for some such disgusting purpose. 3 months to look at my obviously correct figures? Seriously?