Indigenous Australians have fallen victim to the growing Centrelink debt notice scandal, in which hundreds of thousands of people have received official letters demanding welfare money be repaid; only many of the alleged ‘debts’ have turned out to be wrong. NITV News has been inundated by stories from more than 100 people claiming they were erroneously told they owed Centrelink money.
Since July 2016, a total of 170,000 debt recovery notices have been sent out to Centrelink recipients informing them they had committed fraud for underreporting their income and demanding they pay back thousands of dollars or face debt collectors. In some cases, the alleged outstanding balances exceeded $20,000.
The demands for non-existent debts come as a result of a new information sharing agreement between Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office (ATO), which is averaging people’s annual income across a whole year. Periods where people reported no income have now been incorrectly recorded against them by Centrelink as income earning periods.