What to do if you get a robo-debt letter

Centrelink general manager Hank Jogen explains what to do if you get a debt notice.

How to handle robo-debt

Centrelink general manager Hank Jongen recently gave some advice on the Mind Your Own Retirement podcast about what to do if you receive a debt notice. Read the transcript below.

Kaye: Centrelink is a huge topic for our members because we know around 70 per cent of retirees are on a full or part pension. Would like to cut to the chase and talk to you about compliance, which at the moment seems to be centred on robo-debt.

Hank: Look, that's very true. And look, I have to say, the recent coverage in the media has wrapped everything up into so-called robo-debt. Really welcome the opportunity of talking about this because the so-called robo-debt or the online compliance program is only one of a range of measures that we've got in place to protect taxpayers’ money.

And that's really what we're talking about here. What we're talking about is compliance to ensure that people receive the right amount of money from Centrelink.

KF: So if we say to you why aged pensioners shouldn't be concerned, how would you view that? What's your take on that question?

Look, I totally agree. The reason I say that is what the online compliance program is about is identifying discrepancies between information that's been provided to us and information that is then provided to the tax office through tax returns. And what the online compliance program does is when it identifies a discrepancy between what tax has been told and what we've been told, it generates a letter to the individual asking them to clarify that discrepancy. It's really important to make the point this letter is not a dead letter. It's simply a letter seeking clarification. It's the start of the process. It's not the end of the process.

KF: Well, I think that's really important for people to understand that.

John: Absolutely, because there's been a lot of sort of fear spread around. And as we know, some of our senior sites get very frightened very easily.

Absolutely. And look, that's why it's so important that I have the opportunity to explain this. Now in relation to pensioners, which you specifically asked me about, the first thing I have to say is we know from our statistics that only about 4 per cent of pensioners are actually employed. So, again, I just want to make the point that what we're talking about here is earnings from employment. We're not talking about reviews of shares. We're not talking about an overview of investment. They are all part of separate processes that we have in place. The online compliance program is simply aimed at looking at earned income declared to the tax office. And if that differs from Centrelink, that's when we will generate a letter.

KF: So, Hank, to cut to the chase for older Australians on Newstart, if this is about the full percentage of pensioners who are employed, does that mean people, older people on Newstart won't be part of this program?

No, no. Older people on Newstart usually constitute a larger proportion of people who are actually working and earning income.

So they are part of the normal income compliance program. But look, it's really important to make the point we only send these letters where discrepancies occur, where there's a difference. And what it really highlights is the importance of keeping us informed. Updating is if you receive an increase in your income, updating is if you receive a bonus and look at the ways in which you can do that are many and varied. Look, when you sign up for a welfare payment, what you're doing is you in effect entering into a contract with the Aust taxpayer, that you will be providing us with accurate information about your circumstances. And as I said, the online compliance program is just one of a number of measures that we have in place to make sure that the information that's been provided to Centrelink is accurate.

KF: So just on the point of information and we often ask members or remind them that that keeping everything up to date is really important. But if somebody was to receive a letter asking about a discrepancy and it's related to a debt that's about seven years ago, I know in my life I'd have difficulty coming up with my information. How does that work?

Well, again, we have looked very carefully at ensuring that we try to make it as easy as possible for people to provide us with clarifying information. First thing I have to say is you don't necessarily need to get seven years worth of payslips. What we've done is we've developed a formula where if, for example, you can provide us with bank statement and most banks will enable you to get statements online at no charge, then we can apply a formula to determine what your gross earnings will be. But look, this is this is the other big thing about these letters. The letter explains to you and gives you a number of options. First, you can seek to resolve the situation online through a link that's included in the letter. But there's also a phone number and there are experts at the end of that phone who can guide you through the process, who can give you advice because, you know, we really do need half an hour to talk to you.

I wonder if we could get a no name typical letter and put that on the Web site so people could see what the letter actually looks like and what the options are to respond. Is that a possibility?

Absolutely. Delighted to provide that information for you.

KF: Is the same kind of technology being used to look for people who might have been underpaid.

There's no specific technology, but in instances, if we detect an underpayment, we would remedy that situation within a set of rules that relates to how far back we can go with underpayments. And look, I have to concede the focus here is on the protection of taxpayers’ money. There are other review processes that we have in place which can identify underpayments. And again, if we identify underpayment, then within a set of rules, we would make adjustments to people's payments. But I'm not going to pretend that this is about finding underpayments. The primary purpose of this is to protect taxpayers’ money.

Look, if I say nothing else, what is of key importance is if you receive one of these letters, don't ignore it. The worst thing you can do is ignore that letter. If you're not sure about working your way through a computer and the link that's provided, there are people at the end of the dedicated phone number that's in that letter who can provide you advice and guidance on how to clarify the situation. Don't ignore the letter.

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    COMMENTS

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    Glenn
    25th Oct 2019
    10:39am
    I dislike the use of the term "taxpayers' money" as we are all taxpayers through GST etc.
    Horace Cope
    25th Oct 2019
    10:49am
    Perhaps an exercise in semantics Glenn but pensions are paid out by the federal government and all GST is given to the state governments so the term "taxpayers' money" is correct in this context.
    VeryCaringBigBear
    25th Oct 2019
    11:11am
    Yes welfare is taxpayer's money and therefore taxpayers should be confident their money I being spent where it is intended not given to those who want a little bit extra even though they are not entitled.
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    3:00pm
    The OAP is not welfare in my book, never tapped them till I got old, never new start, job start or even further back CES payments. You can call it welfare if you like I DO NOT!
    Intellego
    25th Oct 2019
    5:34pm
    Totally Uncaring Big Bear continues with his crap that pensions are welfare. If you want to see true welfare, just look to franking credits - welfare for the rich!
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:40am
    Every time anyone makes a purchase they are a taxpayer.... simple really.. no argument.
    floss
    25th Oct 2019
    11:11am
    SO if you are bitten by a brown snake it is good for you?.
    VeryCaringBigBear
    25th Oct 2019
    11:12am
    If it kills you then you wont have to worry about robo debts.
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:42am
    Rubbish - they'll wait it out of your estate... the government has worked out yet another self-serving deal that says that even if you go bankrupt you still have to pay them - why would you imagine they would not pursue a Robber-Debt without any solid foundation, from your corpse?

    Aye - grave robbers.... we need to show some of them the grave now.... it seems....
    pedro the swift
    25th Oct 2019
    12:44pm
    Bit late in the day to make clarification now after thousands? of letters have gone out.Top hard to explain it up front? And if their system is so clever to match up records why do letters need to go ? They have all the info. surely. i would be more inclined to trust gov. if they really got on to big business to make sure they paid their proper taxes and closed loopholes.
    Red 13
    25th Oct 2019
    12:49pm
    My son is a University student and receives the Youth Allowance, two months ago he receives a robo debt letter say he was not a full time student for a period of nine weeks last year. They cancelled his Youth Allowance and wanted the money back for that period. He had his enrolment papers and confirmation, plus confirmation of the subjects studied during that period and his subject list proving full time status. The next day he receives another letter say he was not studying at Uni for a six month period and they wanted that money back now, thousands of dollars. He had two weeks to pay.
    With his mother, he went to the Local Centrelink with his proof of enrolment, subject list, and proof of subjects passed proving attendance and uni confirmation of full time status.
    Local Centrelink advised they could not accept his proof or fix it or reinstate his Youth Allowance. They directed him to the Student section and the Robo debt people section to fix it. They sent the paperwork he had to Centrelink Head Office and gave the respective phone numbers to the two sections and told him to wait several days and then ring
    He rang the Robo debt people and they told him they had no paperwork or anything on their system. They then said ring the Student Section, he did so, and they also had nothing on their system and to call back in a couple of days.
    A week passed, and he called again, no, the Robo Debt people had nothing still. He called the Student Section and they had his paperwork but had done nothing. He asked they send it on to the Robo Debt Section. They did straight away.
    Then another call to them confirmed they had it all. They then said that although they had his proof of status they could rectify things until he tegistered an Appeal against the original decision, he did so. But told him that could now take 8-10 weeks to find out. He then asked for his Youth Allowance to be reinstated pending the Appeal outcome.
    They said no and that he’d need to clear his status with the Student People before that could happen.
    Back to the Student People, who advised they would need an in-house Assessor to verify his subjects proving he was a full time student., that could not be done until just before or just after Xmas. Not enough qualified Assessors they said.
    They then told him he would receive only two attempted calls from the Assessor to confirm matters. He was to available for those calls. If he missed the calls, back to square one.
    This all started in August, we are now in late October, no calls, no messages, no Appeal result.
    Two weeks ago they restored his Youth Allowance, no letter confirming that.
    He waits......
    How good is that?
    Hank van Jongeren you sir are a liar, who serves a lying useless government who hurts and punishes the innocent without a care.
    Any Liberal lovers who care to comment on this disgrace better be bloody careful trying to explain this abject failure of government.
    BTW saw my Federal Liberal Member about all this, with our proof, he washed his hands of the entire matter.
    Useless Ar**h**le!!!!
    sunnyOz
    25th Oct 2019
    1:33pm
    Red 13 - you are correct about the Centrelink phone calls. I received a call - phone showed unknown number. Usually I refuse to answer these calls but I was waiting for a call from my elderly aunt's doctor whom she was seeing, to say she was ready to be picked up.
    Phone call went - "is that (quoting phone number they had rung. Which seems odd, as they had rung me)"
    Before I replied - I said 'who is calling?' (after all, they had rung me).
    Caller ignored my question, and said "to whom am I talking with?" (AGAIN - they were the ones who phoned me - surely they would know who they were calling).
    I am not going to give my name to anyone who just calls, and I don't know who they are. So I asked - "who's calling please?"
    Reply - "I am unable to confirm this until I know whom I am talking to"
    I replied that I was extremely uncomfortable giving my name until I knew who was calling, especially from an unidentified number.
    I stuck to my guns and refused to give my name, to which the caller hung up.
    Thing was - I was the Centrelink contact for my elderly aunt and she is NOT registered for MyGov. A few months earlier she had experienced an incorrect robodebt, and I was helping her try and sort it out. About 2 weeks after this call, we had to again go into our local CL office. In the course of conversation, the CL girl said they had tried to contact me previously, and had no luck. I then remembered the above conversation.
    When I queried this I was told that CL make ONE call and one call only, from an unidentified number. If not answered, they do NOT leave a message. (I normally never answer calls - all calls go through my answering machine, simply to avoid spammers and the constant string of charities who are exempt from the do-not-call register). And if you don't answer they will not ring back. You don't know when thy will call, so you literally have to have your phone in your hand all hours of the day and answer every call.
    PS - I went to a talk some time ago given by police about safety, spams, phone scammers, etc - and one thing they stressed was never to give any personal identification to unidentifiable emails/phone numbers. Even your name.
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:46am
    Couldn't read it all, Red - but I can see the gist....

    Reading more I can see the nightmare Centrelink have created.... I was right to call the 'minister' the Reichsfuher-SS (social security).... nothing but a parasite and vermin....
    sunnyOz
    25th Oct 2019
    1:03pm
    Pretty biased to ask a Centrelink representative what to do! Ask someone impartial, because Centrelink/Hank/Department of Human Resources - have a vested interest in this farce (having been caught up in it twice, one for myself, once for my elderly aunt - both times totally incorrectly).
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    3:03pm
    Hank is only an employee - he has to sing a particular song or go out and join new start.
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:47am
    As a contracted employee, he'd better sing with the choir or it's Outski... government in this nation has a lat to answer for in making senior public position contracted .... perhaps they'll respond on the Rack....
    Wanderer
    25th Oct 2019
    1:26pm
    Tell me which bank will go back seven years and give statements for free? That is untrue.
    cupoftea
    25th Oct 2019
    1:51pm
    And we don't live under a dictatorship
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    3:06pm
    We certainly do not - I have lived in a few of them. South Africa, Rhodesia, Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar. That is where you learn to keep your trap shut for sure.
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:50am
    .. but here we don't have to, Jim - not yet anyway.... but watch this space...

    We can still speak our minds, but we go on a list.... I couldn't care less - our top security agency knows full well who I am - they asked me in for a job.... and they know all about me.... and I have nothing to hide.... I can ring them and they say say 'Hello, XXX' ....
    clarabelle
    25th Oct 2019
    3:03pm
    why did I get a robo-debt letter when I havent lodged a tax return for three years as we live on part age pension and my husband's disability insurance super which we have been receiving for 22 years.
    nothing has changed except to receive $30k from my son to move house which was then paid back to him on my creditcard immediately. this was to save cash interest as I just paid one of his debts.
    So I would like to know if Hank really knows what is going on.
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    3:09pm
    Wish I had a healthy credit card like that. Must be a black or diamond one!
    cupoftea
    25th Oct 2019
    3:22pm
    cowboy Jim why would you live in so many places under Dictatorship what was you a merceny
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    3:40pm
    No mate - I was a newspaper man.
    cupoftea
    25th Oct 2019
    4:28pm
    ah well cowboy Jim you would know that this country the journos are bit scared to write in case they get done for slander and FOI is a joke and every thing else we do not hear I class that as Dictatorship by stealth
    Anonymous
    25th Oct 2019
    6:54pm
    Yeah - but at least you do not yet get a call to your office telling you to turn up next day with all your papers and passport. 4 days and off you go to the airport with "persona non grata" stamped in your passport. It might come to that but, alas, not just yet.
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:54am
    Jeez - I'm persona non grata in my own country.... and proudly so....

    Wonder why I can say the outrageous things I do (the truth) and why I get top medical treatment free?? Many an old Digger mate asks the same questions....

    What you see is not what you get........... why do I speak out? They bit my ass .... now it's judgement day....
    Roy R
    25th Oct 2019
    7:17pm
    I would not trust anything Jongen says. He cannot answer simple questions let alone crap like this. He is a typical pen pushing public servant, full of "it"!
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:54am
    Truly the truth is deep within this one...

    G'night - gotta sleep....
    TREBOR
    26th Oct 2019
    2:39am
    Fat Bastard justifying his office again...

    AYE - don' cha think Ah'm Sex-eh?
    johnp
    26th Oct 2019
    7:21am
    In regard to the aged pension, get rid of the assets and income tests etc and just have universal aged pension. That way those receiving above certain limits are just taxed under the normal tax regime Gets rid of all the wasted bureaucratic processes, time, costs for govt, trauma for those involved, etc and all this crap continually described in these blogs !!
    Pass the Ductape
    26th Oct 2019
    8:35am
    'The primary purpose of this is to protect taxpayers’ money.' - and - 'Don't ignore the letter.'

    Read .... "In the final analysis, despite the friendly spin of our leader - we will come for you regardless!'"

    So do you need to worry - damn right you do!!
    Fredklaus
    28th Oct 2019
    2:02pm
    sweet TONGUE
    Blinky
    29th Oct 2019
    11:43am
    Pensioners are forever living not only in poverty, but also in fear the govt of the day may change the rules, or accuse them of something and hit them with a robo debt case.
    Surely old, former tax payers do not need this pressure and stress in their old age.
    Is this the way to thank them x all those years of hard work and tax-paying days?
    How come pollies get fat pensions and centrelink dies not bother them? Are they some kind of first class, privileged, special, untouchable kind???
    Blossom
    29th Oct 2019
    7:46pm
    Centrelink need to get the facts correct before they start sending out robot debt notices.
    One lady got one in her deceased husband's name. He passed away about 10 years ago.
    The debt I s supposed to relate to about 2 years ago. A search has found that there is no bank account of any type and no super. They have also sent out letters to people who have never received payments from Centrelink. Another person was sent a letter saying he owed $10,000.00. Accountant has done full audit including old bank statements several years and can't find any that haven't been declared. They are also targeting farmers recently hit by bushfires and floods recently. They haven't received any grants or insurance money yet nor have they received as much pension as Centrelink are claiming has been overpaid.
    Blossom
    29th Oct 2019
    7:46pm
    Centrelink need to get the facts correct before they start sending out robot debt notices.
    One lady got one in her deceased husband's name. He passed away about 10 years ago.
    The debt I s supposed to relate to about 2 years ago. A search has found that there is no bank account of any type and no super. They have also sent out letters to people who have never received payments from Centrelink. Another person was sent a letter saying he owed $10,000.00. Accountant has done full audit including old bank statements several years and can't find any that haven't been declared. They are also targeting farmers recently hit by bushfires and floods recently. They haven't received any grants or insurance money yet nor have they received as much pension as Centrelink are claiming has been overpaid.


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