ACOSS has raised our deep concerns in the media and with Government about Centrelink’s new automated debt collection system in which 20,000 people a week are sent letters asking them to confirm details of wages they received up to six years ago. ACOSS is calling for the immediate suspension of the program and for it to be independently reviewed.
We support the purpose of ensuring that people receive the right payments but the process is needlessly causing anxiety among people who have done the right thing and reported their earnings. Overpayments are being raised and people are being asked to repay ‘debt’ without the proper checks to make sure that money is actually owed.
The income support system is very complex and it is hard for people to recall how and when they were paid by employers years ago. We advise people who are asked to provide information to Centrelink on-line about their past income to take care to check your income details first before completing this form, as your response may determine whether or not a debt is raised.
If you are affected by these changes, are worried about a letter from Centrelink, don’t know how to respond, or believe a debt has been wrongly raised, there are number of things you can do.
Unfortunately ACOSS is not able to help people in individual cases, but you can contact the following for help:
- National Welfare Rights Network – http://www.welfarerights.org.au/organisations A network of community legal centres throughout Australia which specialise in social security law. This service is free.
- Legal Aid Commissions – http://www.nationallegalaid.org/ Your local legal aid commission can give you information and advice.
- Your local community legal centre – http://www.fclc.org.au/find_a_clc.php Provides legal information and advice. Most services are free.
- Commonwealth Ombudsman – www.ombudsman.gov.au/ Assists the public by investigating and resolving complaints about Government departments and agencies (and has launched an investigation into the automated debt recovery system).
- ACOSS also suggests that you contact your Local Member of Federal Parliament to let them know how this has affected you – http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parlia…/House_of_Representatives
- Lifeline 13 11 14 – a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
You can post your experiences with the new system here on Facebook or follow the hashtag #notmydebt on Twitter (which is independent of ACOSS). You can also post your stories on the Not My Debt site: http://www.notmydebt.com.au/
Below is a link to an article from Guardian Australia which gives an example of the problems people face in responding to these Centrelink letters. You are not alone!