Ian's daughter Jane* is overseas, so when a Centrelink letter arrived for her in November, he opened it for her. He found one of the letters from the welfare agency's controversial debt recovery program, saying she needed to confirm her income from several years past.
Later, a debt for $5500 arrived, and because Jane was away, she couldn't log onto the MyGov website to lodge a dispute or give more information. Ian had to spend 30 hours of his own time collecting information, fighting Centrelink's frustrating online and phone systems, and following up lost correspondence before the debt was amended from $5500 to a total of $0.
"I'm privileged, having worked in government, so I have some idea what to do and how to find information. So many other people feel really overwhelmed by the whole thing, feel scared, don't have any idea how to start to defend themselves."
He said the system of disputing debts and providing information was too slow, difficult and complicated.
"It's unfair all over. People are getting debts and they go back more years than my daughter's debt. It's near impossible to dispute claims being made," Ian said.
"It's an appalling thing. Centrelink staff are put in just awful situations of having to press for debt recovery where none exists, and doing that with vulnerable people."