Dec 21, 2016

How to dispute a Centrelink debt

Does Centrelink think you owe money that you don't think you owe? Here is what to do next.

Sally Whyte — Political reporter

Sally Whyte

Political reporter

Centrelink’s new automatic debt generation computer system is generating 20,000 debt notices a week, despite more and more stories emerging about obvious problems with the system.

Since July, Centrelink has run an Online Compliance Intervention system, which matches income data provided to Centrelink by recipients to income data provided to the Australian Tax Office. If the amounts don’t match, people are told they need to update their details with Centrelink, and many are coming away with debts of thousands of dollars.

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14 thoughts on “How to dispute a Centrelink debt

  1. Urban Wronski

    Appalling reversal of the onus of proof. As it is, Centrelink staff treat you as if you are a potential fraud. If only the same rigour could be applied to companies evading taxes. Or banks.

  2. Rosie Barron

    onya’ crikey for not paywalling this, very important information. cheers.

  3. paddy

    Plenty of good advice here.
    But contacting MyGov via phone???
    Successfully achieving that, really would be a Christmas miracle.

  4. Pamela

    As a newcomer to Centrelink absurdia, I have much to learn not least the “how many ways can they get it wrong”.
    Latest is a letter telling me that Immigration (another lack lustre mob) have informed Centre Link that I went Overseas in August 2016 and did not return.
    Checked my passport to see if I had gone do-lally, after all I am applying for an aged pension. No went nowhere last year and am still here.
    Awaiting next installment…

  5. CML

    If you treat the staff at Centrelink with courtesy, you won’t have any problems.
    Have been dealing with them, on and off, for the last 10 years with NO bad results.
    If you start with the abuse, then expect difficulties.

  6. listohan

    It’s fundamental that if you compare inches with centimetres (benefits calculated on fortnightly circumstances and annual income) you will make errors. And lots of them.
    Surely it is important for information about errors arising under this crazy matching system to be accumulated with say, the Opposition, so the process can be exposed based on evidence.

  7. Centrelink officer says only a fraction of debts in welfare crackdown are genuine - AlloverUnique

    […] Australia and other media, including the ABC and Crikey, continue to receive reports of incorrectly issued debts, which are causing stress and anxiety just […]

  8. Steve Tonks

    I had the fortune of being able to perform some temporary work from October 2010 to end of June 2011. The work was on and off, sometimes a few weeks on and then many weeks off before a few more weeks on and weeks off again etc, such was the nature of the position.
    I submitted earned income (or no earned income) declarations to Centrelink as required each fortnight and received full, partial or no benefit depending on my earned income each fortnight.
    One month ago I received notification from Dept of Human Services of a data matching disparity and was asked to confirm my earned income for the year. After checking my bank statements for the period and checking against my earned income declarations sent to Centrelink each fortnight I saw that no overpayment had been made by Centrelink and I scratched my head wondering wtf they were on about. I replied to the initial letter confirming my earned income for the period.
    After reading in the press about the fraudulent “debt recovery” program being run by the Dept of Human Services I sent an email to Hank Jongen (relevant manager at Dept of Human Services) and several days later received a call from a lady from the Dept of Human Services Compliance Team. I was told I had a debt of $3414 (being the total amount of benefit I received during the above period). I asked how this had been determined and was told that the earned income amount advised by the ATO was divided by 26 and if the average fortnightly income was above the threshold at which payment ceased then it was deemed that no benefit was payable for the entire period and the benefits I had received would need to be repaid.
    It immediately struck me that the debt recovery earned income average methodology was badly flawed when applied to people such as myself who had worked on and off during the period. I gave the lady caller details of times during the period when I earned no income and she could see these periods reflected in my fortnightly earned income declarations to Centrelink.
    Still this was not proof I had not worked during these weeks (although I am sure it is a crime to falsely declare income or no income).
    I am now having to communicate with the employment agency for whom I worked on and off between October 2010 and end June 2011 and requesting a letter stating the periods worked and the periods not worked during this time. It is bizarre that I am guilty until I can prove my innocence. I am convinced this program being run by the Dept of Human Services is a scam to force innocent people to repay benefits they were entitled to receive.
    I think the ACCC would be doing people like myself a real service by listing this “debt recovery” program on their Scamwatch website. I am reliably informed that certain senior managers at the Dept of Human Services are earning large bonuses dependent on the amount of revenue collected by this “debt recovery” program.
    I strongly recommend that everyone who is being unfairly screwed by the Dept of Human Services writes to their local MP, to the Minister Alan Tudge, with copies to Andrew Wilkie MP and senator Doug Cameron, both of whom are taking an active interest in this program.

  9. High Farce: The Turnbull Government’s Centrelink ‘Robo-Debt’ Debacle Continues To Grow - New Matilda

    […] the Guardian has reported on it in detail, thanks to the diligent work of Christopher Knaus, as has Crikey and Triple J’s Hack […]

  10. Ian Roberts

    Perhaps pollies with dubious expense claims should be assumed guilty until they can prove themselves innocent. They could be sent demands for reimbursement including the threat of debt collectors and a 10% penalty. The onus could be put upon them to furnish whatever evidence they can and they shouldn’t be presented with the evidence against them.

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