'Debt' letters cause grief for welfare recipients
CENTRELINK recipients in Mackay are venting their frustration over 'debt' letters after a new online compliance system was implemented in July.
The system compares data supplied by government agencies such as the Australian Tax Office with Centrelink data and automatically generates letters if it believes there's a discrepancy.
Since reports of the letters -some involving thousands of dollars - have emerged Mackay residents have been quick to come forward with their own stories of frustration and grief.
While single mother Tracey Green didn't receive one of the more recent letters, she said she had dealt with years of stress tackling her own Centrelink "glitches".
"I split from my husband three years ago and my two youngest children came and lived with me," Ms Green said.
"I had a really rough couple of years after the split and I didn't get around to doing my tax return for the 2014 financial year. To make up for it, I submitted it in 2015 along with my regular tax return.
"That's when Centrelink hit me $1200 because I didn't do my tax on the exact year that I should've.
"Centrelink said they overpaid me, even though earlier they said they hadn't as the computer system automatically goes on your estimated income instead of what your actual (income) is."
Department of Human Services spokesperson, general manager Hank Jongen said prior to the new system, staff manually checked records provided by other government agencies.
He said while the process was now automated, income assessments and debt calculations were the same.
"When data differences are detected, the system generates a letter advising people of the difference and asking them to either confirm or update their details online," Mr Jongen said.
"These are not debt letters and at this stage of the process no debt has been raised. "
He said no decision to raise a debt was undertaken until the customer had been provided an opportunity to correct the information the ATO have provided.
Ms Green, who recently left Mackay, is now employed and no longer has an income from Centrelink. However, she said her debt, which she believes to be about $1000, still existed.