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Moving Goal Posts

Debt amount: 
$1300
Date debt issued: 
Friday, 29 April 2016
Period debt occurred: 
July 2010 to December 2012
Has your case been referred to a collection agency?: 
No
Payment Type: 
Parenting Payment
Appealing Debt?: 
Yes but I lost
Tell us about your debt and how has this affected you? e.g. anxiety levels, financial and accommodation stress: 

Centrelink performed a data matching with the ATO.
The ATO had my earning $X for a particular period but centrelink had recorded $Y for the same period being less than the ATO.
They then decided this meant I had underdeclared my income.

They then contacted my employers for payslips but as my work fortnights did not line up exactly with a centrelink fortnight, they averaged out my income over the period.
Using this new 'averaged' figure, they put it against my declared amounts for each fortnight. Surprise surprise they amounts were not the same.
Therefore a fortnight where their new amount was higher than my declared amount was ruled as an underdeclaration by me therefore I was declared to have been to be overpaid and a debt subsequently arose.

This was repeated for each fornight in the 2.5 year period.
So I am sent a letter stating I owe money - I was automatically guilty.

They also unilaterally started taking repayments at $80 fortnight. Clearly in their mind there was no possibility that they were wrong.

I appealed all the way to a second AAT review.
I demonstrated that, as my income was highly variable, averaging it was not fair and would of course result in different figures.
The rules when I was on the payment was that you have to declare what you have earned during their fortnight. I went through, again, every fortnight and re-calculated it all to show that I had not been underdeclaring my income.
They did not bother to look at any of my evidence.

This is where they have 'moved the goal posts'.
Even though I declared my income as I was supposed to at the time, Centrelink are allowed by law to average out someone's income.
Therefore, as they have technically applied the law correctly, they upheld my debt.

This whole process has caused enormous grief and stress.
I expended much time and effort into having to try to obtain records from that time (as I no longer possessed them) and then re-calculate every fortnight only to have them completely ignore my evidence.
I was accused of underdeclaring on certain fortnights but yet no one was willing to sit with me to go through my evidence proving that I hadn't.
So that was a complete waste of my time and energy.

Once before I was accused by centrelink of not declaring income properly but I proved to them that I hadn't.
Because of that, at that time I requested centrelink change their fortnight to line up with my work fortnight. That way I could simply read off my payslip instead of having to try to work it out myself and therefore eliminating the chance for errors. I was refused. I feel I was set up to fail.
If they had done a simple change which would not have affected them at all, all of this would have been avoided.

I was also not given any consideration for the fact that since this process started I also had the added stress of still being a single parent and now dealing with one of my children being diagnosed with cancer as well as having to look after my mother with cognitive decline.

The financial stress from having to stop work due to my son's diagnosis has been huge. Unfortunatley as a result of having a debt, I cannot apply for an advance on my centrelink payments - something which would be helpful.

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

There are no words strong enough!

For a debt supposedly starting in 2010, why did it take so long before they contact my over it?
Why are they allowed to move the goal posts?

If I calculated and declared my income under one system, they should not be allowed to redo it with another.
Of course it will result in different figures - this does not mean I did the wrong thing.

Why did they treat me as though I was automatically guilty?
They did not contact me to discuss the issue or obtain information from me. They simply contacted me to tell me I was guilty and I had to start paying.

The claim that the AAT are independent, impartial and unbiased is a load of crap. Why was my evidence completely ignored if they are truly an independent authority?

They also spent thousands of our tax-paying dollars chasing this money. They have a lawyer to represent them yet I had to be there on my own.
I feel that because they had spent so much money on my case, they were determined to make sure the AAT upheld my guilty status so they could continue to collect money from me.

I fully believe that the AAT did not give me a fair hearing but there is no way of disputing, appealing or simply submitting a complaint against the AAT and their decisions.

I can't go to the ombudsman as they won't accept claims that have gone through the AAT.
The only process available is to go to the federal court. Problem is it costs thousands simply to lodge with the federal court.

I went to my local federal member who forwarded it to the current minister overseeing centrelink but they are the opposition and have simply dismissed me.