Here’s what to do if you receive a debit note from Centrelink.
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Thousands of Australians on Centrelink have been shaken in recent days after fiscal returns and other assessments at the end of the fiscal year put them on a list of people who owed the government money.
The government believes that some Centrelink recipients have paid too much and are now asking for some of that money back.
Last week, news.com.au revealed Centrelink sent bills trying to recoup amounts of up to $10,000 in childcare benefits for periods going back years.
And just days later, Services Australia told the Senate that it estimated that they had issued bills of debt to 11,771 people who owed them a total of $32.8 million, over overpayments related to the JobKeeper program because revenues were misreported. .
For more stories like this, got news.com.au
It comes less than a month after the Robodebt saga — which matched abusive tax and Centrelink data, resulting in thousands of false claims against recipients — concluded with a $1.7 billion settlement for the victims.
If you recently received such a debt note in the mail, don’t panic just yet – the government has plans to repay everything over time.
And if you think the fee isn’t fair, there are ways to dispute it. Here’s what to do if you receive a debt note in the mail:
Thousands of Australians have received a letter of debt from Centrelink in the mail. Source: John Feder/The Australian
Do I have to repay Centrelink’s debt?
If you think a mistake has been made and you don’t owe them anything, you may be able to get out of debt.
“We understand that you may not agree that you are in debt or need to repay money,” reads the Centrelink website.
They encourage you to get in touch if you want to challenge the decision.
You can do this by calling the number in the debt note, calling your regular contact or calling the Centrelink Collection Line.
Your debt will be explained to you and they will consider any new information you can give them.
If this doesn’t disappoint them, you can request a formal review of the decision to appeal.
The review will cost you nothing and they aim to complete their investigation within 49 days.
An authorized review officer independent of Centrelink will investigate your case and amend the decision if it is incorrect.
Will I go to jail if I don’t pay my Centrelink debt?
There are various forms of Centrelink fraud under sections 134 and 135 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).
According to Nyman Gibson Miralis Lawyers, you cannot be sent to jail for a debt of this nature unless they have reason to believe that there has been willful misconduct.
If it’s a real mistake, don’t get in trouble.
Centrelink may refer a debt to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) if they believe you have lied or omitted information to make a profit.
“If Centrelink suspects that you have committed a criminal offence, they will first investigate. They may invite you for a formal meeting or come to your home. If they still believe you have committed a criminal offense they will refer the matter to the CDPP,” NGM Lawyers wrote on their website.
However, this is a very lengthy process and would not be taken lightly.
While your debt is unlikely to become a criminal case, there are other penalties if you are late with your payments.
“Legally we need to get back money that is owed to us,” says Services Australia.
Interest is charged for late Centrelink payments
If you are late with a payment or have not agreed a payment arrangement with them, they will charge you interest.
They can then escalate it by going to your employer or bank to have your money docked and send it to them instead.
Services Australia may also request that the tax office withhold your tax refund so that they can take that money to pay off your debt instead.
The government mentioned a “last resort” option if you still haven’t paid off your debt, which will see them engage an outside debt collection company.
They use three companies to do this – Milton Graham, Probe Operations and ARL Collect Pty Ltd – who will either send you a letter, text or call you.
They also warned on their website: “If you fail to repay your debt at an appropriate rate, we may issue a Departure Ban.
“It will keep you from leaving Australia.”
You cannot go abroad until you have paid the debt in full or agreed on an acceptable payment arrangement.
“We don’t need a court order to stop you from leaving Australia,” the website added.
Your Centrelink debts do not affect your creditworthiness with a bank.
I don’t have enough money to pay my Centrelink debt, what should I do?
First of all, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to pay everything off right away if you’re in a COVID-affected area.
Any new debt incurred while you were in lockdown – which will apply to most NSW and Victorian residents as well as some Queensland residents – have been put on hold.
“If you are in a COVID-19 lockdown Local Government Area and receive a debt note, you don’t need to do anything,” the government says online.
However, it is important to think about how you will pay off your debts once the break is lifted.
There are two ways to pay back money you owe: either pay it in full or set up a payment plan.
The payment plan means you pay a regular amount, or they deduct a regular amount from your earnings.
Services Australia stressed that it is critical to contact them before the due date of your payment.
If you are unable to start your refund before the due date, please contact us.
“It is important that you call us before the due date.”
Otherwise, they may take action against you. You can also make additional payments for the money you owe at any time. This can be a periodic payment or a one-time payment.
Early Childhood Education Australia CEO Samantha Page says that while the industry welcomed the $1.7 billion announcement yesterday, it was concerned it would make the childcare system more complex than it already is. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg unveiled a boost to eligible Australian families on Sunday as part of a plan to get mothers back to work. “The additional investment will help bring Australia back up to date with international standards for spending in early childhood education,” said Ms Page. However, she told Sky News that the childcare system was already quite complex and the announcement “adds to that complexity”. Under the plan, the grant would apply to every second and subsequent child in care per family. “It means different children in the family get different grants, so it doesn’t increase the grant for the first child,” she said. Ms Page also said the industry needed “necessary” investments in its workforce. “We must pay professional wages to early childhood educators and teachers and address the issue of pay equality between early childhood teachers and school teachers.”
Government responds to Centrelink debt
In a statement to news.com.au, a government spokesman defended all the debt letters sent recently.
“Under the time-honored principles of the Australian Social Security System, it is the responsibility of individuals receiving Social Security benefits to accurately report their earnings and to inform Services Australia if their income or circumstances have changed to avoid being overpaid,” the statement said. spokesman.
“This process ensures that our social security system is sustainable into the future, because it means taxpayers pay only what they qualify for – no more, no less.
“The alternative would be for taxpayers to pay Social Security benefits to ineligible recipients.
“Services Australia takes every opportunity to remind people of this obligation during the application and payment process.
“If a person has overpaid, Services Australia will always write to them to let them know how much they have overpaid and to explain why they owe money.
“Services Australia also advises these welfare recipients on their repayment options.”