What to do if you get a debt notice

Phillip has been told he is in debt for Age Pension overpayments and wants to know how to challenge the ruling.

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Q. Phillip
Could you please advise if there is an independent organisation in Queensland which can assist or advise on Centrelink pension problems?

I have been on the Age Pension for three years and was recently advised that I was overpaid by $30,000–$50,000. I have handed the information to our local federal MP and he has asked for a review, but I am not hopeful of a good outcome.

Centrelink has suggested I take up the Pension Loan Scheme option but at 5.9 per cent interest, I think this is just a way to gouge more money out of us. The other option is to sell our house but why should we have to pay for Centrelink’s mistakes?

As I’m sure you can imagine, this is a lot of stress that we don’t need at this stage of life and I would just like to know what options are available should a satisfactory outcome not be achieved through present channels. Thanks.

A. Contacting your MP is a very good idea and something that is strongly recommended in these situations.

Situations like this are becoming much more frequent since the Government introduced its robo-debt system and many mistakes are being made.

The website notmydebt.com.au can be a valuable resource where people can anonymously share their experience as well as provide tips and advice for others.

In terms of who to contact for support, they suggest contacting your local legal aid office who will be able to help you with your case.

There are several other things you should start doing as you deal with this situation. First, you should start keeping a diary of all your interactions with Centrelink. Request and write down a receipt number for every conversation you have with someone from Centrelink, on phone or in person. When you call Centrelink, the system generates a receipt number as soon as the worker has confirmed your identity and opened your file, so ask for it then.

Asking for a review
The MP that you spoke to has said that he has asked for a review, but if you don’t have official word that a review has been requested, you might want to go through the process properly.

You need to request a review from an Authorised Review Officer (ARO) at Centrelink. This can be done online, by phone or in person at a Centrelink office; however, a written request is best. Then you can keep a copy of your request and get a receipt from the post office when you send it. You can also get it stamped and request a receipt number if you choose to hand-deliver it.

An ARO is a senior Centrelink officer who has not previously dealt with your matter. The ARO will have a fresh look at the decision and call you to discuss. You can give new information to the ARO to consider.

The ARO is required to make the ‘correct’ decision based on all the information available. This means that a debt could be increased, decreased or cancelled on review. The ARO should send you a detailed letter explaining their decision.

Centrelink officers sometimes try to talk people into having a reassessment instead of an appeal, so just stand your ground and reiterate that you want to request an appeal by an ARO. 

If you are not happy with the decision of the ARO, you have a further right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

The AAT is free and informal but it does not have discretion, and it must apply the same laws as Centrelink does. Centrelink will provide information from your file and the AAT will schedule a hearing where you will have an opportunity to explain why you think the decision is wrong.

Have you been issued with an incorrect Centrelink debt notice? Did you pay it or did you have the decision reviewed?

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Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Written by Ben

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