It has caused me a great deal of worry and grievance.
Before they started harassing me I was feeling good about everything in my life. Over the past two years I've been very happy.
This is partly because I worked very hard for a long time to get out of the financial insecurity of casual, low paid and short term contract work that defined my life for about 15 years.
In order to achieve this I went back to study full-time for a few years in the middle of my life.
At first I tried to do it part time so that I would not need to worry about Centrelink. But then at some point I realised I just need to get this study done so that I can move on with my life and have better employment prospects. So for a few years I received Austudy and got it done.
Obviously the amounts I received only covered my rent so I kept earning and reporting irregular income every fortnight.
That time was really tough and solitary for me. The study was hard going and I had to juggle everything so carefully to keep up with the high cost of living in the city.
I relied on credit cards to make up the difference and accrued a credit card debt that I am still paying off 6 years later.
However, all my hard work and faith paid off in the end when I secured a full-time job 2 years ago. For the first time in my adult life I have been feeling like it's all OK.
Then when I started to hear about this alleged debt I spiralled into despair and hopelessness. I was feeling like I'll always be mired in debt, no matter how hard I work and it's trap and all not worth it etc.
I was paralysed with my irrational fears of the worst which made it difficult for me to follow up on when I was contacted in a text message by Dun & Bradstreet.
I dragged myself reluctantly to the task of calling Centrelink one day to ask if I had a debt according to their records - they confirmed I did.
I had called their compliance line.
The person I spoke to had lazy manners and spoke to me as though I was a criminal.
They said I had a debt due to incorrectly reported income, gave me the amount and the time period it applied to and offered me to read the letter I had been sent by Centrelink over the phone. I had not received the letter because they had sent it to an outdated address. This is why it was referred to the debt collector before I knew about it.
That day I went to the local Centrelink office (had to take a day of annual leave to deal with it during business hours), they gave me a printout of the debt letter that had been sent to my old address. It had no information in it about how the debt was calculated. No other related correspondence was available in their system.
After this I decided to write Centrelink a letter to let them know I had only just received the letter (after the payment was due), and that I needed more information about the debt.
I also stated in that letter I was willing to make payment instalments until it was sorted out so that they could recall it from the debt collector.
I also wrote to D&B to fill them in on this but did not want to speak to the debt collector on the phone because I felt I could not trust them.
I have made a few payments since then but didn't hear back from Centrelink.
The next thing was a FINAL NOTICE from the debt collector threatening legal action. It arrived in the post 9 days after the date on the letter.
Subsequently I called Centrelink compliance again and was lucky to get someone who was nice and gave me much more information.
Based on what I was told in that call it became clear that the debt is very likely to be an error. I asked them to send me the ADEX schedule as advised here: https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/how-fight-centrelink-robo-debt-10-n...
At first they agreed but then after getting advice from another staff member they suggested that I get a "reassessment" instead - this would involve pausing the debt I was told, which means they would be able to recall it from the debt collector.
I said OK but that I still wanted the schedule to be sent to me.
They replied that they can't send it if a reassessment is in progress.
So I had a choice, either get more information now or wait for the three months it takes them to reassess.
I opted to get more information now but was told there was no way for them to estimate how long it would take for them to send me the information. Meanwhile they said they cannot recall from the debt collector.
I don't think this is a legally supported position, they've threatened legal action relating to a debt for which they've provided no evidence to me in writing.
I lodged a freedom of information claim. The confirmation tells me I can expect a response in 30 days.
Meanwhile, I've sent Centrelink another letter stating why I believe the debt may be an error.
The online system does not seem to do anything for me other than tell me I have a debt. I can't see letters or upload documents or anything.
At any rate I think it is better to do as much as possible in writing and if possible work around their absurd, unexplained systems.
I'm sending any correspondence by registered post to Centrelink Business Integrity, Reply Paid 7803, Canberra BC, ACT 2610
This is what the compliance person gave me.
Other than this I'll follow some more of the advice in the Green Left Weekly article (link above). I'm going to send a written complaint to anyone relevant.
I have felt very very stressed about this. Although I'm more financially secure than before I still have to juggle financially and there are important things I should be spending money on like health and dental care. Recently I went to the dentist for the first time in about 10 years because I always had to avoid that cost before.
It is also not just the financial stress. The stress has to do with the unfair procedure and feeling under attack and harassed for no clear reason and without evidence. It has to do with fearing the unknown ramifications also.
But I am not only stressed. The more I get used to this problem being in my life the more angry I get. I am going to fight.
I'm really grateful to all the stories people have shared here that help me to feel more empowered than I would otherwise.
I have completely lost trust in the Government and feel that they are systematically destroying the foundation of the economic ecosystem. Trust is extremely important to the economy and it is unsound to further disenfranchise and alienate the people who are struggling or have struggled in the past.
This issue makes me think the entire business of the current Government is a criminal enterprise.
When I first heard of this alleged debt I thought it must be a scam. I still think it is a scam.
I think they are committing fraud upon the Australian public by claiming they can recover a massively inflated or completely fabricated amount due to "welfare fraud".
It is deceptive, nasty, cynical and crude.