I know there are few weeks where I miss-reported or did not report, but these were due to Centrelink's confusing interface and the change over to the MyGov website. I was also told many times by Centrelink that I did not have to report my income during certain periods. Even with the few weeks (only a couple of instances over a 4 year period) where there were errors on my part, there is no way I could owe $4904.
Even after placing a FOI request, I still haven't received all the information related to the calculation of the debt. All I have received is the ATO match records, which show what I earned each financial year, vs what I reported during that financial year. There has been no consideration of times when I was not on the Centrelink, or times when I was told by Centrelink not to report, or times when the reporting fortnight did not match up with my employer's pay period.
I have an appeal underway, and when it is complete I plan to ask for it to be reviewed by an ARO. It has been under appeal for months, and they did not pause the debt during that process. They only put a hold on it today when I called them about why it is still visible in MyGov as a payable debt while it is still under review.
I have been told, when asking for a review/appeal, that this could mean that the debt increases, and I have also been told that if the debt is found to be due to my own fraudulent misreporting then I Centrelink could take me to court and I could be charged.
This is so intimidating, and this is all happening because I couldn't afford to live by my own means while I was at Uni. I couldn't live with my parents as they live too far away from the University, and I was only able to work 2-3 days a week while at uni due to the crazy timetables.
I paid Sydney rent for 3 years of my degree, while supporting myself, and dealing with the bureaucratic chaos that is Centrelink, and now I am being punished for even trying.
Not to mention the fact that I can't get any work and the degree that I studied is meaningless due to the Government's funding cuts to the Arts industry.
I'm working 3 days in a cafe because that is the only work I can find, and I'm too terrified to ever deal with Centrelink again because of this experience.
I really want to study a Masters degree so that I can be employable, but the main thing stopping me is this debt, and also the fear of having to ask for government assistance again.
The Government is attacking those who are already suffering, for their own selfish benefit. Kicking us while we are down.
Oh, by the way, this is the second time i've been hit with a Centrelink debt. Back in 2013 I was asked to immediately pay back $1095 that Centrelink accidentally paid me (not due to under-reporting on my part - purely their mistake) two and a half years before. It was the first Centrelink payment I ever received, and I had been told that it was back-pay for the wait time leading up to my claim approval.
I only just finished repaying this debt last year.
If I, a middle class white person who is educated and from a two parent household, can't deal with the anxiety and pain this is causing me, then how can others who are worse off cope?
I can't fathom how those with serious mental health conditions and disabilities are able to handle receiving these debt letters.
I have been told over the phone that minimum repayments will be around $95 per week for this amount of debt. I just don't have that money.
I earn about $500 per week and after rent/bills/groceries/vet/medical/transport I am lucky if I'm left with about $50.
I don't eat out, don't drink or smoke, and don't over spend on clothes or other luxuries, never vacations.
Even with this strict budget, I can't make the minimum repayments.
The Government has handled this process in the most demeaning way.
They could be taxing the huge corporations that are contributing to climate change and ruining our environment, but instead they SUBSIDISE them.
Meanwhile they are not only stealing from the most vulnerable in our society, but they are trying to make out that we are the criminals.
They are instilling fear and anxiety in those most at risk, and those who have nothing to fall back on.
Shame on Malcom Turnbull and the Liberal Party.
Shame on those in charge of Human Services.
Shame on Centrelink.