Six months ago I received a letter in the mail advising me that I needed to update my details with the ATO about my employment while recieving youth allowance.
I had applied for youth allowance while studying at university, and recieved payments for about three years while I worked part time.
I rang Centrelink and spoke to a helpful man on the phone who advised me to upload any documents relating to my employment or payments I had recieved, and to leave it with them. He advised me that the process would take no longer than 6 weeks and that the debt would likely be resolved.
I wish that I had kept a hold of my pay slips from when I was working at university!
I rang my old employer and had them forward on my PAYG payment summaries. Meanwhile, I uploaded every bank statement from 2013 to 2015 that included a Centrelink payment through the MyGov webiste, and waited for Centrelink to contact me.
Fast-forward to September, and I recieved a letter in the mail telling me I owe Centrelink $4,195.17
In the letter, Centrelink advised me that they "had sent [me] a number of reminders and asked you to call us if you needed more time or help with the request".
I had recieved no contact from Centrelink since my intial phonecall to them at the beginning of the year - snail mail or otherwise, as I have no digital record on MyGov of ever recieving any letters, bar this one regarding my impending debt.
I can only conclude from the letter that Centrelink either did not review the documents or found them insufficient, and rather than contact me to rectify the situation, moved on the allegations to the next step, i.e. debt collection.
This situation makes me feel powerless.
Debt is one thing, but to have the entire decision-making process hidden from the person whom it affects the most is another.
When I was on Centrelink, I reported my income every fortnight using the app, just as directed, and my youth allowance payments were adjusted according to what I earned during that time. I assume therfore that the system was working - wasn't it?
Now, all I recieve is a letter in the mail telling my that I owe $4,000 and to pay it back, please and thank you.
The entire process makes me feel as though the welfare system in this country is no longer there to support its citizens, but to penny-pinch and ultimately chase a bottom-line, with no regard for the dignity and emotional wellbeing of the clients it serves.
Even a letter explaining how the decision was made would go a long way to relieving me of some stress.
I live in regional New South Wales, and so my options are to either take the day off work to sit on the phone, or drive 160 kilometres to the nearest Centrelink office in the hopes of speaking to someone in person, and appealing the decision.
Centrelink's ability to communicate effectively with clients has been far from effective; even incompetent.
Despite having all of my contact details, I never recieved any other communication from Centrelink - you would expect that even a letter would arrive eventually.
I am also really frustrated by Centrelink's digital record keeping processes.
A search on my own Centrelink profile shows no record of ever recieving any payment from Centrelink, so my own ability to cross-reference what I recieved verses what I was entitled to is also compromised.