A Centrelink claimant says the agency told him it cannot remove his bogus debt from his online account, even though it has agreed he owes nothing.
Simon Rivers*, from Sydney, was unemployed for just two months in 2011-12, and is one of many hit with an inaccurate notice saying he was overpaid in benefits.
Two months on, the MyGov website still says he has a debt of more than $200, even though the agency has sent him a hard copy letter stating that he doesn’t owe anything.
If 80 per cent of the 169,000 people sent a review letter have been issued with a debt, that makes 135,200 people issued with a debt. Even if just 1.6 per cent of these are inaccurate, that means 2163 people have so far been unfairly hit with a false debt, with 1.53 million letters still to be distributed.
That’s a significant number when you consider that Centrelink claimants tend to be the most vulnerable in society, from the elderly to the disabled to the mentally ill.
News.com.au has been contacted by hundreds of distressed Australians who say they haven’t been able to correct errors that claim they owe up to tens of thousands of dollars.
And as the Government ramps up the speed at which it is trying to recoup money, it has become clear Centrelink does not have the resources to deal with the problems. People hit with inaccurate debts describe spending hours on hold on the telephone, being passed from queue to queue at packed branches, and not being able to update their details because of IT issues with the MyGov website. Others say staff did not know how to handle their problem, lost their paperwork, forced them to restate their case over and over again or told them to start paying back money they didn’t owe to avoid the debt collector.
Even employees have said the system is a mess, riddled with errors and that staff cannot handle the problems.