A random phone call from the Centrelink compliance team in early February advised me that I had not reported my income while receiving Austudy in 2013 and 2014 which had resulted in a $4000 debt. This was a complete shock to me as I had always reported, and I had always been so careful to report the correct amounts.
They asked me to provide all of my income details for that period over the phone so they could review the debt, which I did. After placing me on hold for 20 minutes, the agent came back to me and advised that the debt is actually larger than they first advised, and it was now sitting closer to $6000. They are insisting that I did not report my income at all during the time I was receiving Austudy, however, that is impossible because I always reported fortnightly, and if I had not been reporting then they would have cut me off.
This debt has given me so much anxiety, and taken away my dignity and quality of life. I am already a low income earning university student, struggling with anxiety and depression. I have no family support around me and no way to pay back this debt. I can barely afford food and rent as it is. Having this debt looming over me for the past six months while they assess my appeal has increased my mental health issues and made me afraid of the day that they finish assessing my appeal. Based on the hundreds of stories of others in my position, it is unlikely that they will remove the debt and I do not know how I will pay it.
On top of all of this, just this week Centrelink has sent me a message asking me to review my pay for the 2016-2017 period as they believe I have been overpaid again. I am frozen in a state of despair and anxiety. I don't have the money to pay back the current debt and I don't know how I will be able to afford to live if they add on a second one. I am afraid to even complete the income review because I know that the most likely outcome is another bogus debt that I do not deserve and cannot afford.
I think it is absolutely disgusting the way that the Government has handled these robo-debts.
The people receiving Government benefits and pensions are often the most vulnerable and worst-off people in our society. No one goes to Centrelink for money unless they really need it. Just having to apply is made to be an undignified and stressful process, which no one would put themselves through unless they had no other choice. Centrelink is preying on these people who cannot afford legal representation and may not even know their rights. Anyone who needs to receive money from the Government to afford to live, cannot afford to pay back a debt that they never saw coming and most likely did not actually earn or deserve to have. This is extortion and it is ruining the lives of the people who need assistance the most.