In November 2015 I made a very serious attempt on my life and ended up in hospital for a period of time.
This wasn't the first attempt. It was simply the most serious.
It was by the doctor's recommendation that I spend a couple of months on a hiatus with my family where I could be monitored, seek counseling and eventually, when ready, move back into normal life.
I was working a casual job in Sydney at the time, living alone in a studio apartment and my family lived 7 hours away.
I did as the doctor suggested (I would not have been allowed out of hospital if I hadn't) and I stayed at my family's house for 3 months - during which time I received Centrelink payments in order to pay my Sydney rent.
After this period (it was March 2016 now), I moved back to Sydney and began working my casual job again with the same employer.
I received Centrelink payments for another 6 months at the suggestion of my doctor who thought it best in order to take some financial (and therefore mental) strain off my back whilst I returned to normal life.
Later that year I received a letter from Centrelink claiming I had a debt from 2014-2015 financial year.
This was for a period before before my serious attempt on my life, and during that financial year I was unemployed for part of it, had 3 different casual jobs throughout it, and stopped getting benefits half way through it.
I declared my small earnings to Centrelink honestly and diligently, to the best of my knowledge.
I stopped receiving benefits halfway through that year once I had settled into a permanent (but still casual) position.
When I received the letter, I thought that perhaps I had not been as thorough as I should have been, and expected there may be a small differentiation to the amount of $200 maximum. This is because sometimes I was keep back to work extra hours or my shifts were cut short after declaring my income. I would then either minus or add on the hours worked to the next declaration, which is apparently not what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to go into the office or wait on hold for an hour in order to have it adjusted. I wasn't aware of this.
Anyway, after I entered my details I was left with a $1,500 debt.
I had no idea how this figure had been reached (but do now after investigating how to system calculates the amounts) because there was no way I had under-declared that much accidentally.
I called, was on hold for quite some time, and then was basically told there was nothing I could do and that I had to start paying the debt off at $60 a fortnight.
So I did, because I've never been one to argue and I keep everything bottled up.
$60 doesn't seem like much, but on a casual wage living in Sydney completely independent - it is.
It was on my mind every day - the money that I had to budget out - the money that was the reason I couldn't afford to go out with friends or buy myself something nice like a new shirt.
Then a year later (March 2017) I received another letter.
This was for the time I had been on Centrelink in 2015-2016 after the attempt on my life.
The system had taken my yearly earnings and divided them by 26 (fortnightly) and assumed I made X amount of money every fortnight and had not declared correctly.
This is not the case, as everyone knows that casual wages can vary greatly.
I was also not working for 3 months of the year whilst I was on my hiatus and while I was in hospital.
I had to go through the rigmarole of proving my innocence and had to constantly explain to people on the phone that I had not worked for 3 months due to being hospitalized and having tried to kill myself.
It was embarrassing and quite traumatic.
Once again I declared everything honestly, and expected a differentiation of $200 maximum for the same reasons as stated before.
They told me I had a $2500 debt, on top of the one I was already paying off. I had a mental breakdown.
I contacted Alan Tudge and told him my story.
A lady from his office contacted me and I explained the events to her. She was kind and thorough and referred me to an over the phone counselor, who was also very kind and managed to get me to open up about things that even my psychologist hasn't managed to uproot.
The debts were re-evaluated professionally by a real person and not a computer system, and deemed to be incorrectly calculated.
It was deemed that due to the emotional stress this had caused me and the exceptional case as to why I was on Centrelink during 2015-2016, that the debt that remained would be waived.
I'm terrified to do my 2016-2017 financial year tax because there is a period of around a month where I was still receiving benefits and I'm certain the same issue will be had.
No doubt I will have to once again go through the process of explaining my case.
It truly terrifies me.
It's a very "profit over people" response from the Government.
However, in my experience, I dealt with some very helpful people and had a positive outcome, which doesn't seem to be the case for most people, though I wish it was.