I received a call from Centrelink in early June 2017 advising they wanted to review my Centrelink payments received in 2012 and 2013.
I didn't have any records of my payslips back then so I provided what I had in bank statements to them and thought nothing more of it, thinking the government were smart enough to work this out and resolve it on their own.
I was very, very wrong.
I was told I'd have an answer in a fortnight. In mid-August, I received a letter saying I owed over $2200 in Newstart allowances related to a period between January and May 2013. It took them nearly two months to figure out there was a discrepancy in their records from nearly five years ago.
I immediately appealed and requested everything they had on me via the FOI Act.
Again, I expected I would hear something shortly and it would be resolved swiftly.
Again, I was wrong.
In September I received a letter from the DHS for the outstanding amount to be paid immediately.
I called them and advised that because it was under review I would wait until they provided a resolution before paying.
I was harassed, badly, by the DHS in that call. I received no call receipt or the name of the person I spoke to. This call may not even exist on Centrelink's records as far as I know.
I ignored them again until I heard anything further.
In December I received a letter and a call from an ARO advising the debt was reduced from over $2200 to just under $1900 but I still owed a debt to them. No explanation was given on why they reduced it. They gave me 13 weeks to respond.
I used 11 of them before responding in late February.
Prior to that, I received a letter from Dunn & Bradstreet advising it had been sent to a debt collector, within the time period I had to lodge an appeal. I was furious and called up the DHS straight away.
First, they advised that I was outside the 13-week period (wrong), then they said it hadn't been sent to D&B (wrong again), then they finally conceded and referred the debt back to themselves.
By this stage I've figured out the DHS isn't that smart and I can probably beat them.
I come from an accounting background and I was able to punch enough holes in the data and their workings that I could easily get the whole debt removed just on lack of substantial evidence.
I'd been mad at them up until now but they just became a nuisance. I was confident it would only be a matter of time before I crushed them.
The DHS and the AAT didn't receive my initial appeal request, which I found out only after calling them in early April.
So I submitted another request which I won't have a tribunal date for until at least May 21.
This is where the anxiety and worry begin to kick in. I leave for a holiday to Europe for over two months in early June.
It's been in planning for longer than this debt has been around. Everything has been paid for, in excess of $20,000. Because I wrongly thought this would be resolved quickly, I kept planning and kept paying off whatever expenses I had for it.
Should the DHS and AAT not resolve this before June, there is a very real risk I will be stopped at the airport from boarding my flight.
I've earned this holiday and now the government believe they can take it away because of their miscalculations and incompetence from five years ago?!
I emailed the AAT last night to request they hold off the debt and the appeal until late August when I get back.
Not only was I told this was not possible but that Centrelink would continue to pursue the debt in the meantime.
I honestly don't know where to turn.
Do I get a lawyer involved?
Do I go to the media?
It feels like I'm destined to pay for a mistake my own government made years ago because I just don't know who can resolve this for me anymore!
First off, I'll never forgive the government for this. Ever. They're meant to look after the welfare of their citizens, not break it down.
Second, the level of incompetence in the whole process has made me completely lose faith in public officials. The debt was wrong. They've admitted as much by reducing it in December.
How can it take so long to go through this process and still be incorrect after going through so many people?!