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Exchange study denied

Debt amount: 
$3000
Date debt issued: 
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
Period debt occurred: 
October 2016 to February 2017
Has your case been referred to a collection agency?: 
No
Payment Type: 
Austudy
Appealing Debt?: 
Yes & I won
Tell us about your debt and how has this affected you? e.g. anxiety levels, financial and accommodation stress: 

This year I have been investigated twice. The first being a phone call in April where I was placed on the spot to answer several questions regarding exact dates and income from recent employment. I had to supply my rental information and all my payslips for the past year. The investigation was cleared, and there was no mention of debt, however, the reasoning for this made me feel threatened to a certain degree. I was also quite confused, as at the time I was not receiving payments and working.

The second time, I was contacted by the debt recovery team who approached the call with an abusive demeanour. As soon as he was able to confirm my details, he demanded I owe Centrelink to the order of around $3,000 in debt payments with no further information. He told me that his system had averaged my taxation information providing sufficient information to indicate that I had defrauded Centrelink and unless I provide him with every payslip from 08/10/2016 until 27/02/2017 by the next day, or if not, the debt would be raised within the week. He refused to offer me any further information, and my past payment information from Centrelink was not accessible online.

I mentioned the pending application that I submitted from April regarding Austudy during a semester of exchange and said that it was likely that it was on hold because of the investigation. I was able to find every payslip, I did not defraud the system, and my case was closed. As I was due to leave the country in two weeks, this situation created incredible stress as I had already made a budget for the upcoming semester overseas. I could not believe that he had been able to claim without sufficient information or provide me with any details about my situation. They placed me in a situation where I had to prove my innocence rather than them basing their judgement off of correct data.

Furthermore, due to this investigation, Centrelink denied my application for Austudy during the exchange semester on the basis that I had left the country before they processed my application from April. When calling them and waiting on hold until 3 am in the morning, the call centre agent decided to sift through my file, clearly looking for things that they could charge me a debt for and was querying several previous legitimate claims that I had made with Centrelink. After she was unable to find anything, she said it was not possible to reverse this decision, and that I should have been in the country when Centrelink looked at my application. That it was up to me to come back to Australia, resubmit and then wait again for another indeterminate period of time for Centrelink to process it, something of which I'm currently appealing.

How do you feel about the way the Government has handled this process?: 

There is insufficient data to determine the precise details of a four-month period from within a twelve-month tax submission. Legitimising this kind of assumption and forcing someone to prove that it is incorrect is very close to being a scam. As this is coming from a Governmental service, it places significant distrust in its institutions.

No one should be expected to prove innocence by hoarding payslips for an indefinite period of time. It is only pure luck that I managed to find a pile of payslips in a box that I had not thrown away; others might not be so lucky. If this system could reliably guess the amount of which is paid each week, the purpose of reporting is redundant. If matching data between immigration, banks, and the tax office cannot be relied upon, it should not be used in the first place.