BIG BILLS: One Bundaberg resident said her husband was told he owed Centrelink $10,500, while another was told her debt was $11,500
BIG BILLS: One Bundaberg resident said her husband was told he owed Centrelink $10,500, while another was told her debt was $11,500 Mike Knott BUN101214CENTRE4

UPDATE: Pitt says some Centrelink debt claims misleading

UPDATE: Member for Keith Pitt says some comments about Centrelink processes to recover debts have been misleading.

Mr Pitt said he was advised by Social Services Minister Christian Porter that the first contract Centrelink made with recipients who may have been overpayed was not a debt.

"The first letter is a request for information only," Mr Pitt said.

"It is not a debt letter."

He said a debt could be raised if an individual acknowledged a mistake in the initial information they provided to Centrelink.

If the recipient does not reply to the initial Centrelink letter or the subsequent reminder notices that are issued, Centrelink will then go to the ATO information and a debt may be raised, he said.

"Many Centrelink clients provided that information after receiving the initial letter and clarified any issues or repaid the outstanding debt and they need to be commended for that," Mr Pitt said.

"The same rule applies when a worker is overpaid and they must repay that money. I believe Australian taxpayers would expect that overpayment of welfare benefits would result in people having to refund that overpayment," he said.


"This is a long-standing approach that has operated under previous governments."
 

EARLIER: Bunbdaberg welfare recipients have taken to social media in anger and confusion over the Centrelink debt debacle.

Centrelink recipients across the region are being told to pay back false debts sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars because of a faulty computer algorithm.

Jodi Betts commented on the NewsMail Facebook page saying her husband received a bill of $10,500.

"(He) had to supply payslips from 2010," she said.

"Luckily he got most of them but he still has to pay back $2000."

Jodie Cunnington said her apparent debt was a whopping $11,500.

"I went into the Centrelink office to be told no one in their office was trained in compliance and I had to speak to someone over the phone," she said.

"A week later they send me two debts totalling $11500 due to be paid on 4th January 2017.

"Currently gathering payslips from 2013 to contest it."

The Federal Government and Centrelink have come under heavy criticism from all quarters over the automated system that has been used to match welfare recipients' reported income.

Amid all the anger the government agency began using Twitter to refer welfare recipients to crisis support hotline Lifeline as the hashtag #notmydebt began trending on the social media platform.

Labor, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and social service organisations have urged the government to suspend the system.

But Social Services Minister Christian Porter has defended the system telling ABC radio last week the system was actually working "incredibly well".

"The complaint rate is running at 0.16%," Mr Porter said.

"That's only 276 complaints from those 169,000 letters.

"That process has raised $300 million worth of money back to the taxpayer which was overpaid."

 

WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU RECEIVE A DEBT RECOVERY LETTER?

CENTRELINK sends you a letter advising you of the amount you owe, when it's due and how you can pay.

You may also receive an SMS or be asked to call one of Centrelink's Debt Recovery phone numbers, 1800 076 072, 1800 138 193 or 1800 462 425.

If you think the decision is wrong you can ask for a review of a decision.

If you don't pay your debt by the due date Centrelink will ask the Australian Taxation Office to send it your tax refund to help pay your debt off faster.

If you aren't repaying your debt over time or if Centrelink hasn't agreed to extend the payment time, it may also:

  • add an interest charge to your debt.
  • refer your debt to an external collection agency.
  • reduce your income support payments to help pay the amount owing.
  • recover the amount from your wages, other income and assets, including money you may hold in a bank account.
  • refer your case to our solicitors for legal action.
  • issue a Departure Prohibition Order to stop you from travelling overseas.

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