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People Forced Onto Payment Plans While Centrelink Debts Still Under Review

6 January 2017
Lane Sainty
BuzzFeed

Curtis Dickson is paying back a $750 debt to Centrelink – but he doesn’t believe he owes them any money.

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Dickson said a staff member told him he needed to show proof of income - incorrectly saying he needed to provide pay slips for the entire four-year period he received Centrelink – before the debt could be reviewed.

“They said, ‘In the meantime, while that’s going on, you have to go on a payment plan, because the debt will just go to a debt collector’,” he told BuzzFeed News. “They justified it by saying, ‘If it turns out it’s wrong, we’ll pay you back’.”

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Scores of Australians have taken to social media to complain about the letters, using the hashtag #NotMyDebt.

Many say they have been given the same options as Dickson: payment plan, or face the debt collectors.

“I was banking on the fact it would be resolved pretty quickly, but it’s dragging on and on and on,” he said.

The government has remained staunchly supportive of the automated system since media reports emerged of mass discrepancies late last year.

However, politicians from the Labor opposition and minor parties have slammed the government’s handling of the issue.

Independent Andrew Wilkie said on Wednesday that the methodology behind the payment recovery calculation was “designed by a dunderhead”, and that the stories he was hearing from constituents were “just bizarre”.

“I’m blaming the government,” Wilkie said. “I’m blaming the relevant ministers; I’m blaming the PM who is responsible for his government.”

Dickson said it was “galling” to see social services minister Christian Porter come out and say the system was “working really well”.

“It seems like either he is trying to cover up what’s happening, or alternatively, has no idea what is going on.”