Ngarrindjeri elder Elaine Kropinyeri from Mount Gambier in South Australia told SBS News Centrelink had recently cleared her of a $7800 debt, citing an “internal mistake”.
She said she discovered the so-called debt after Centrelink informed her she had been overpaid, in a separate matter, by $600. According to Ms Kropiyeri, Centrelink did not explain how the overpayment had been calculated, but deducted $464 from her regular payments towards the debt.
Ms Kropiyeri found the $7800 in an obscure area of her MyGov Centrelink online account while trying to understand her debt notice. This figure, according to Ms Kropiyeri, didn't appear in the usual 'deductions' section.
“They didn’t even send me a letter,” she said.
“If I didn't accidentally come across it the way I did, they would still be deducting from my meagre income.”
Subsequently, Ms Kropiyeri received a statement on November 29 confirming her fears that the larger sum was in fact owing. With the notice showing $7154.52 was still to be repaid, she was able to work out Centrelink had been deducting part of her payment without her knowledge for this larger debt.
When Ms Kropiyeri enquired to Centrelink over the phone about the disputed amount owing, she said the staff member could not explain it.
“I am still unsure how this [debt] came to be because, as I said, I hadn't worked and did my reporting every fortnight.”
She was referred to a specialists team where a staff member said the onus was on her to explain the debt to Centrelink.
“But it’s [their] department that determines what overpayments that need to be distributed - I don’t have access to their computers.”
Because she was sure she did not owe any amount, she said she told Centrelink she would take her case to the Ombudsman's Office and ended the phone call.
Within half an hour they called her back to tell her the debt had been waived because of an “internal mistake”.
“I know my rights, so I stood up, tooth and nail, to them.”