What to do if you get a Centrelink debt letter
Act quickly to request a review, and check the details
Unless you have been living under a rock you would have heard about the debacle that is Centrelink's debt recovery program, which matches Centrelink and Australian Tax Office records and sends out letters to recipients if a discrepancy is found.
At the time of writing about 170,000 notices had been sent with more than 1 million more in the pipeline, leaving many recipients stressed and anxious about potentially having to repay debt that they may not even owe and also be hit with a 10% recovery fee. If they did not respond to the letter within the set period, debt collectors may have been called in.
There has been a lot of opposition to the program from a number of groups including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), which has called on the federal government to suspend the automated program. "ACOSS does not oppose debt recovery action where overpayments have occurred.
However, Centrelink must properly investigate overpayments rather than shift the onus of proof onto Centrelink recipients," says ACOSS CEO Peter Davidson.
While the government has refused to back down it will make a number of small changes to improve the process, including adding Centrelink's 1800 phone number to the letters, cross-checking against electoral rolls and other government data and altering the wording.
Customers will also be able to request an internal review of the supposed debt before collectors are called in, as long as the review is requested immediately after the first notice.
So what should you do if you get a letter? Go to myGov and check the info by the date requested. Be sure to check any employment dates and employer names. You can also contact Centrelink and ask it to explain the debt to you.
If you still need help, contact your local welfare rights centre.