When I first received the letter informing me of my debt, I knew there must have been some kind of mistake. I had been on Youth Allowance as a high school and undergrad student, and was always diligent in recording my fortnightly income.
I only went on Newstart after experiencing a mental health crisis and being unable to work for 6 months.
This was the only time since age 15 that I had been unemployed.
Through a lot of hard work and very expensive private therapy (thanks for nothing, Medicare) I have improved my mental health and am able to work part time while completing a graduate degree.
Receiving this robodebt last year brought me back to a very low point.
I tried my best to appeal the debt, supplying all of my payslips from 3 separate jobs up to 4 years ago.
The online interface where I was supposed to enter this information was utterly unnavigable – I almost have a Master's degree and I couldn't figure it out. I can't imagine how they expect less fortunate people to do so, although I suppose that is the point. It seemed to have been designed to be as confusing and frustrating as possible.
After days of trying to enter my information, the system cut me off at 5pm sharp on an arbitrary date. At this point I had a complete mental breakdown due to the extreme anxiety.
My partner had to pull me away from the computer where I was hysterically sobbing. Later, I managed to get a sympathetic person on the phone who gave me a two-week extension, and helped me enter all of my information manually. Ultimately this proved fruitless, as according to them it didn't 'match', though I was given no evidence to confirm this.
At this point I was at the end of my rope, and resolved to just pay the debt for the sake of my mental well-being. I hoped to work out a payment plan of some kind, as on my minimal student income $1052 is a lot of money.
Unfortunately I was not given this option as it was tax time, and Centrelink took it upon themselves to garnish my return. I had been relying on that money to be able to live, but they are clearly not concerned with such things.
The entire situation had a severe toll on my mental health, which took months to bounce back from.
It's worth noting that I had at one point been given a work exemption for 3 months by Centrelink, so they were aware of my condition. Thankfully my debt was not as large as some others here, but it nonetheless put me in a difficult financial position.
Incredibly poorly. I was made to feel like a criminal who had purposely defrauded the system, and there was absolutely no institutional accountability. No evidence of any kind was provided to me to prove this debt – I was expected to take their word for it, despite having faithfully provided them with accurate records for years.
I suppose you could say one thing in the Goverment's favour – they have certainly succeeded in putting people off seeking support.
When I was unable to work a regular job due to my poor mental health, I literally started doing sex work so I could avoid going back on Newstart. Congratulations on another win to the Department of INhuman Services.