What to do if you get a Centrelink debt notice

Phillip has been told he was overpaid and wants to know how to challenge the ruling.

What to do if you get a Centrelink debt notice

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

•••

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?

Are you eligible for an Age Pension? Do you know your rights? The RetirePlanner™ tool has all the information you need.

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    COMMENTS

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    McDaddy
    26th Jul 2019
    10:20am
    That's a large overpayment, did the letter state why?
    Captain
    26th Jul 2019
    10:24am
    Phillip, the first thing I would do is ask for Centrelink to give an exact supposedly overpaid figure. Somewhere between $30 - $50k is a little too big a range even for our inept public servants to send out.

    Is this a joke?
    clarkey
    26th Jul 2019
    11:02am
    That was my question as well McDaddy. Why has Phillip been over paid? Whose cock up is it? Phillips or the person he first dealt with at Centrelink.
    Seadove
    26th Jul 2019
    11:59am
    I agree clarkey, how can you have a a debt that Centrelink determined the amount you get in the first place? How is that the responsibility of the payee? The whole system is so complicated that it is impossible to work out yourself how much you are entitled to. They tell you to keep them updated on your finances and if you have a computer and can go online to update things, you then cannot get back in to that page for months as it says it's unavailable. If there are any overpayments that weren't because of rorting then Centrelink should wear the cost for being inept. Centrelink is a reflection of this government though so we shouldn't expect anything better.
    Dazza
    26th Jul 2019
    12:17pm
    I'm with McDaddy & Captain on this one. Is someone having a lend? You claim you've been on the Pension for three years, so if you're on a full single pension you would have only amassed around $33K+ or as a member of a couple around $25K+. So, how is it possible to be over paid $30 - $50K? Also, this vague reference to $30 - $50K. In any of my dealings with Centrelink over the years, one thing has been consistent. If they're requesting any money from you, they are very specific in both the amount and the reason/s. So basically, nothing about your "issue" makes any sense.
    jeffadelaide
    26th Aug 2019
    5:15pm
    If he was on a single pension for 3 years he would of been paid 72k but as people are saying the figure is too random and maybe some sort of scam.
    Thoughtful
    26th Jul 2019
    12:17pm
    This is just crazy! The resolution process is just crazy! Yet another reason for a Universal Age Pension. How long are we going to accept this craziness?
    GeorgeM
    27th Jul 2019
    8:52pm
    Absolutely! All pensioners, including those who normally sleep thinking this won't happen to them, need to wake up and support this call for Universal Age Pension - to get these morons off their backs and have a better life free from such threats as you get older.
    sunnyOz
    26th Jul 2019
    12:37pm
    Do NOT pay it! Fight them all the way. Is the letter from a debt collector, or Centerlink? Usually Centrelink forward the debt to a Debt Recovery Agency only after they have had no luck in getting money back.
    Ask them for a full break down. You will be surprised at how averse they are to doing this. They seem to think that just giving an amount is good enough. I personally had an incident with Centrelink (the opposite - they had underpaid me after incorrectly stopping my pension) - and they grossly underpaid backpay to me. No matter how I requested, they would not provide a breakdown - said they didn't have to. I had 3 people telling me I had been underpaid, yet Centrelink would not listen.
    I was part carer for my elderly aunt, and 18 months ago I found her in tears as she had received a letter from Centrelink saying they had overpaid her. She was distraught (she was 86), dreadfully upset and was getting nowhere on the phone runaround. I took over trying to sort it out, and though she was restricted to a wheelchair, we made numerous trips to the local Centrelink office trying to sort out the mess. Again, they absolutely refused to provide a breakdown of the so-called debt, and trying to get details out of them was a nightmare. It was almost like Centrelink can say you have a debt of X dollars, they don't have to prove it, you just have to pay up.
    It was only when one of the CL staff casually mentioned something that I began to see what was happening. Some years previously, my uncle had to move into an aged care facility as my aunt could no longer care for him at home. So both my aunt and my uncle were each entitled to the single pension. I knew it had something to do with this - and I was proved right. I just continued to deny the debt, and to fight it all the time - and in the end, we won - the debt was cancelled in full.
    But boy - did I fight, never giving up. But I can see how many elderly people - and younger people - would just give up and pay.
    Victorian Legal Aid is currently suing the government over the Robo debts. There are numerous web page stories about people who have immediately had their Robo debt cancelled when they legally challenged it.
    So DO NOT pay it! Challenge it! Seems the saying 'innocent till proven guilty' does not apply with Robo debts. In many ways, you have to prove a negative which is bloody hard. And they always seem to want paperwork from years prior. Since my dealings with CL - I keep EVERY single little piece of correspondence, and record of every contact. Also, one reason why I won't take on a casual job is that I simply do not trust CL, that they won't come back in years to come, saying they have accidentally overpaid me.
    If you are in Victoria, contact the Victorian Legal Aid for some advise.
    cupoftea
    26th Jul 2019
    1:02pm
    They like the ATO seem to be a law under them selfs
    cupoftea
    26th Jul 2019
    1:02pm
    They like the ATO seem to be a law under them selfs
    Hardworker
    26th Jul 2019
    1:06pm
    This actually sounds like it could be a scam as Centrelink usually state a specific amount. First step is to make absolutely sure it came from Centrelink. If it is from them don't pay it under any circumstances. Make them state in writing how it occurred as you are not the one calculating the amount you should be getting, they are. Do what the really clever people do and draw the whole thing out for as long as you can until they realise it is incorrect and cancel the whole thing. Like the article says be very diligent and record every contact you have with them. Play it cool and don't worry because Centrelink have made a lot of stupid mistakes in the past.
    Hoohoo
    31st Jul 2019
    1:24pm
    Robodebt has made 100,000 proven mistakes so far, according to an advocate on ABC's The Drum earlier this week. Yet this nasty Government won't admit it is a flawed system, mainly because if staff at Centrelink issued the debt it would cost a lot of money to pay their wages (& this Government has committed, for years & years & years, to huge tax cuts for rich people which automatically depletes revenue for services, infrastructure, health & education.

    Meanwhile, poor people are either trying to pay the debt or stressing out so much that some people have suicided. 250 have died since receiving Robodebt notices.

    If you have been charged with a debt due to Centrelink's fault, not yours, then don't pay it. DEFINITELY DON'T SELL YOUR HOUSE! Let them prove it & show how they decided to overpay you. If you gave them true information about your income & circumstances, then it is their fault.
    TREBOR
    26th Jul 2019
    1:35pm
    Terminator V - Son of Robber-Debt.....

    Our mistake - your loss..... our caring, empathetic organisation and its fully in touch are eagerly waiting to serve you... while we accept all dollars removed from your pocket, we cannot accept any responsibility for errors involved in doing so ...
    ChristineS
    26th Jul 2019
    1:43pm
    My husband ended up with a debt of $9,000 (I was still working, on a deferred leave scheme, advised Centrelink of the numbers behind that, the reasons, everything. Basically, I took 80% of my pay, and the 20% was deferred for four years, then in the fifth year I took a year's leave, and received the accumulated 80% of my pay). Centrelink paid my husband his part age pension on my received 80% income. THEN about 3 years into it, Centrelink blithely explained that income must be fully assessed & reported in the year that it is received (even if I chose NOT to receive it) and therefore he had a debt. Section something or other. So we paid it back, a bit at a time, and then, when I had my fifth year off, even though I was getting 80% of my accumulated pay, Centrelink assumed I was getting zero (as they had already calculated it as being "received") and my husband got a full pension. So it worked out in the end. I was just annoyed that no-one had found Section something or other in the first place, instead of leaving it for three years. I do record every communication with Centrelink. Sadly Centrelink staff have been decimated over the years and whilst people rage again public servants/service, this is what it is about - having enough decently trained, experienced staff to help. Sadly our current government is not concerned with those on income support payments.
    Bazza51
    26th Jul 2019
    2:06pm
    Had a similar problem, wife and I combined supposedly owed around 3.5k. I settled this over the phone as I convinced them that it was their mistake and i shouldn't have to pay for their mistake, they finally agreed and forgave the debt. Part of the problem was that they had specific figures but couldn't give me detail as to what it referred to. I have always found Centrelink to be easy to deal with as long as you treat them like ordinary workers doing a job, they don't make the rules but I have seen some of the shit they have to put up with from irate people. This case seems like a scam, as was previously said how do you get a debt that high in 3 years.
    Bazza51
    26th Jul 2019
    2:06pm
    Had a similar problem, wife and I combined supposedly owed around 3.5k. I settled this over the phone as I convinced them that it was their mistake and i shouldn't have to pay for their mistake, they finally agreed and forgave the debt. Part of the problem was that they had specific figures but couldn't give me detail as to what it referred to. I have always found Centrelink to be easy to deal with as long as you treat them like ordinary workers doing a job, they don't make the rules but I have seen some of the shit they have to put up with from irate people. This case seems like a scam, as was previously said how do you get a debt that high in 3 years.
    OLD TAX PAYER
    26th Jul 2019
    3:06pm
    Hi fellow pensioners, Well centrelink overpaid my wife & I about 18,000 we took our complaint to CL they sent it on to there complaint dept, which as expected turned us down so we then went to a independant tribunial, who are paid by the govt and they also turned us down, we are still paying it off
    McDaddy
    26th Jul 2019
    3:37pm
    At least your scenario makes sense. But some of these others seem to be a mistake.
    McDaddy
    26th Jul 2019
    3:37pm
    At least your scenario makes sense. But some of these others seem to be a mistake.
    Rae
    26th Jul 2019
    3:36pm
    Everyone needs to insist on accurate pay slips and pay being deposited into an account that can be verified.
    With modern banking I fail too see how so many mistakes can be made.
    Surely it's a matter of going back through the bank statements and you have to keep them for 7 years at least.
    Intellego
    26th Jul 2019
    4:17pm
    The Lieberal/Nazional Peabrains are 100% responsible for this Robo-Debt catastrophe. How could the public vote these scumbags back into office? The majority of the electorate must be total morons!
    Paddington
    26th Jul 2019
    9:29pm
    INtelligo, the ones who voted them back in via Palmer or Pauline in Qld at least lack some integrity for sure. Adani helped put them back as well. Greed or perceived loss of money factored as well.
    I really like your descriptive name for them lol!
    rob101
    26th Jul 2019
    4:29pm
    The process is ARO then Sst then AAT,



    Rob101
    McDaddy
    26th Jul 2019
    5:41pm
    NO SST anymore
    Bill
    26th Jul 2019
    5:06pm
    Even if you tell them, repeatedly in my case, they treat you as if you INTENTIONALLY STOLE money from consolidated revenue. And then wait on the 'phone for 3 hours (you read correctly) because no one even wants to talk to you ...... especially the one who wanted you top ring them to sort out a repayment arrangement. The over payment? , I kept it aside and repaid them on the spot but I wouldn't mind betting (no, I'm not a gambler either) that they have marked me permanently as one to watch!
    They are a bunch of dunderheads.
    Bill
    26th Jul 2019
    5:10pm
    I forgot to add, in the good old civilised days they had ducking chairs for creatures lkike this.

    Failing that they burnt them at the stake.
    Chef
    26th Jul 2019
    6:12pm
    Not possible to comment without the detail. I find it hard to believe that Centrelink could overpay that amount of money in 3 years. Also I cannot understand how an individual or couple be overpaid that sum without some alarm bells ringing. Something does not add up. Would love to know the detail.
    Sundays
    27th Jul 2019
    8:43am
    Of course, they could be like friends of ours who didn’t tell Centrelink when the wife got a very well paid job making them ineligible for the pension. The rationale was I’m working, it’s my money,Centrelink shouldn’t combine our finances. Of course they got caught in the end and had to pay it back.
    Triss
    26th Jul 2019
    7:06pm
    If it’s definitely from CL and they demand that much money without details I should be contacting the anti corruption department.
    McDaddy
    27th Jul 2019
    3:23pm
    "The Anti Corruption department"?
    Ducky
    29th Jul 2019
    9:39am
    HOW COULD HE HAVE BEEN OVERPAID? Centrelink sets the payments, the error is THEIRS not his. He should receive a detailed statement showing exactly what he has been paid and then an explanation as to how he could have been overpaid. Centrelink only employs robotic people of low intelligence so how would they even work it out.
    Hoohoo
    2nd Aug 2019
    6:17pm
    I feel sorry for Centrelink staff - they have to put up with a lot of rudeness from (often) smelly people. It's not the staff's fault that the Liberals have sacked so many of them in favour of this Robodebt rubbish & then outsource debt collectors as the bullies to collect money from innocent people, despite Robodebt's over 100,000 mistakes.

    Meanwhile, Centrelink's remaining (understaffed) staff have to face all these angry people. The Liberals don't gave a rat's arse about poor people on pensions, or underemployed or unemployed people. Unfortunately, a lot of these poor people seem quite dull & voted them back in!
    Kee
    3rd Aug 2019
    7:18pm
    Could it be the work of a scammer?


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