In addition to these false claims, it has now emerged that Centrelink is also unlawfully passing this alleged debt to a debt collector.
What is worse is that the corporation conglomerate called the 'Australian Government' states that the 'problem' does not exist.
Please note that your Centrelink / Social Security payments are inalienable, meaning are unable to be taken away from your 'person'.
They can only [lawfully] deduct funds upon your consent.
See the following law in relation to the above statement:
Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 - Sect 60
Protection of social security payment
Also it is stated in the
Social Security Act 1991 - Sect 66
Age pension to be absolutely inalienable
66. (1) Subject to subsection (2) and section 1359, age pension is absolutely inalienable, whether by way of, or in consequence of, sale, assignment, charge, execution, bankruptcy or otherwise. Payments to Commissioner of Taxation at recipient's request (2) The Secretary may make deductions from the instalments of age pension payable to a person where the recipient asks the Secretary: (a) to make the deductions; and (b) to pay the amounts to be deducted to the Commissioner of Taxation. Note: the Secretary must make deductions from a person's pension, benefit or allowance if requested by the Commissioner of Taxation - see section 1359.
Also note that you MUST be notified by mail that your debt is being sent to a debt collection agency.
As soon as that happens you MUST write back to Centrelink that you are disputing their claims, where they must provide all paperwork in relation to your matter.
Your dispute may go on for 1,2 or 7 years where in this time the debt collection agency is NOT allowed to take any action against your person e.g bad credit rating etc.
Should any monies be taken from your account where your Centrelink payments are made, then this is theft, where you should follow up with criminal charges against the 'persons' involved or head of the debt collection agency.
Also keep in mind that if your alleged debt is sent to a collection agency, the collection agency 'buys' your debt and you technically do not owe them anything, as you have no valid contract with them.
Your communications method with any of the above entities should be in writing.
Should you choose to speak over the phone you inform the other party that the telephone conversation is being recorded.
Victorians can stop harassing phone calls under 'Brodie's Law'.
People from other states or territories can tell the other 'harassing party' to stop, and take criminal action against the people on the other end of the phone should they continue.
You must take action if you have had an [unlawful] claim of debt against your person.
Throwing the letters in the bin is considered acquiescence by 'silence'.
There is more with regards to 'debt collection' that is not posted here, and it is up to the reader to research this topic thoroughly.
See article from 6 Jan 2017 by news.com.au of the headline:
Aussies panicking over Centrelink demands to pay up to avoid debt collector
Catherine Herir was wrongly told she owed more than $4000, and should start paying it back to avoid debt collectors. Picture: Supplied
In FY2011 to 12, she claimed benefits after leaving her admin job for full-time study, but Centrelink’s new automated system — introduced in October to claw back money from claimants — had spread her wage across the whole year and calculated she needed to pay back $4500 she claimed while not working.
The 27-year-old told news.com.au she spent a month trying to sort out the issue online, making calls to Centrelink and chasing up old employers from five years ago.
“They suggested that I start a payment plan even before my review was complete to avoid being taken to a debt collector and they would reimburse me later if they found the debt was incorrect, which I refused to do because I knew it was wrong. Maybe that is what they are talking about their ‘recovery success rate’ because people start paying to avoid worse outcomes.
“I finally had enough and had a lengthy conversation with a Centrelink rep where the phone call went on for over an hour. I wouldn’t take no for an answer, so she did my review manually in minutes and then, sure enough, found I was not guilty at all. Human common sense overriding an incorrect computerised system.
“I was stressed and anxious about the debt and my case was straightforward, I couldn’t imagine any pensioner, person with a disability or illness trying to manoeuvre this system.”
Ms Herir’s ordeal is finally over, after she received a letter today confirming she owed nothing. The young woman is one of the lucky ones. Thousands of Aussies are being forced to pay back welfare payments because of suspected Centrelink computer errors.
News.com.au has been contacted by scores of scared and angry Australians who say they or their loved ones have been falsely accused of owing money to the social security program, and even pursued by private debt collectors. Several said they had begun paying the unexplained debt because of short timeframes given to sort out the mess, but others do not have a cent to spare.
They include people with autism, those in care, a woman undergoing chemotherapy, the elderly and people with other mental and physical disabilities.
‘SUICIDE WAS MY FIRST THOUGHT’
Colleen McCormack, from Melbourne, suffers from chronic pain and has had multiple surgeries that forced her out of her job in the healthcare industry for most of FY2013-14. The 36-year-old told news.com.au that after receiving a Centrelink letter saying she owed more than $3000 she “cried all the way through Christmas”.
Ms McCormack’s documents show she was out of work on sick leave, yet the automated system said her earnings must apply to the whole year, and she was ordered to pay back $3000.
“Having mental health issues, suicide was my first thought,” she said. She wrote back explaining her situation, but two weeks after the initial request, she received a letter from a private debt collection agency demanding payment on behalf of Centrelink. She has now set up a GoFundMe page in a desperate attempt to get financial help.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie yesterday said he had heard more than 100 complaints from “terrified” people, at least four of whom said they were suicidal.
Centrelink is paying three private debt collection companies to recover money from Australians.
Many have expressed fear and frustration at receiving the letters but being unable to explain their case to a human, with phone lines clogged, branches unable to help and an online system incapable of comprehending nuance and complexities.
Michael Griffin, from Brisbane, told news.com.au on Tuesday that after he was on the dole for three months in 2013, the automated system had gone back and averaged out his earnings for the year, assuming he was employed in those months and therefore owed just over $3000. The 34-year-old filmmaker labelled it “extortion” and calling it “the biggest issue in Australia” right now.
“I’m wondering if everyone’s going to get these letters,” he said. “It’s preposterous.”
Linda Steven, from rural NSW, was also asked to pay back her welfare payments of $8500 in FY14-15 because the system decided she was in work for months when she was not.
She printed out two years’ worth of her payslips and visited a Centrelink office where staff tried to help her change her employment dates online.
“It was soon discovered they cannot be changed because a debt has already been raised,” she told news.com.au. “The issue now has to go through a full administrative review process. Even though staff can look at my payslips and know I do not owe the money, nothing can be done.
“At almost 64 years old and suffering from high blood pressure and a heart condition I can assure you the stress was overwhelming at first. Not to mention the lengthy phone wait times and expenses.
“In the meantime, payment of the debt must still be made but they reduced the payment
that I must make to the minimum of $15 per fortnight for three months. Three months is the longest time they can reduce it for, and the staff member expressed the hope that my review would take place before then.
“So all the money the Government is hoping to claw back is in fact non-existent in a lot of cases, and is actually costing Centrelink more in trying to sort out the mess.”
‘THESE ARE REAL DEBTS’
The system was brought in three months ago, with the government claiming it would recover $400 million in overpaid benefits owed to taxpayers by retirees, the unemployed, families, carers, parents, people with disabilities and indigenous Australians.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter on Tuesday maintained the automated system was working “incredibly well”. He told ABC radio less than one per cent of review letters had resulted in complaints and said they were not “debt letters” but “polite letters”.
The government has sent out 169,000 of the review letters regarding potential overpayment since July, and Mr Porter said one in five people who received one would not owe a debt.
“In 80 per cent of instances the debt is repayable to the Commonwealth, in the final 20 per cent of instances the matter is resolved, generally speaking, by people simply providing information online,” he said.
Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen, who has released his email for people to complain to him directly, told the ABC last night the letters sent out by Centrelink were “not debt letters”, and said there had only been just over 200 complaints.
“I really am surprised that people are seriously suggesting that when we are obliged under the law to recover outstanding debt when it is identified, that we are being asked to stop doing this,” Mr Jongen said. “I think you need to keep all of this in context.”
But Centrelink workers who told news.com.au they wanted to remain anonymous said the program was in chaos.
“The government is just cutting corners, calculating debts fast is their goal, and it’s just wrong,” said one. “Staff morale is so bad everywhere.”
HOW THE DEBT RECOVERY SYSTEM WORKS
• Centrelink sends people a letter warning of a potential overpayment and asking them to clarify their details online. It will also send an SMS.
ISSUE: Some people have moved or changed phone number and don’t receive the messages.
• You have 21 days from the date of the letter to update online.
ISSUE: Some have complex situations they can’t explain in the online system. Others were told their salary did not match that recorded by the ATO. Upon confirming the ATO salary, the system averaged it out for the year without realising they weren’t earning anything for many of those months. Others found the system recorded them as having two jobs because their employer was recorded under slightly different names by the ATO and Centrelink (e.g. Uni Melbourne and University of Melbourne).
• If there is a concern, you can call Centrelink or visit a branch to speak to someone.
ISSUE: Huge queues at branches, staff telling people to go back online, hours wait on telephone. Some also told news.com.au their jobs prevented them from contacting Centrelink during normal working hours.
• Once you update the information, Centrelink may ask you to provide supporting documentation, including bank statements, letters from an employer or payslips.
ISSUE: Some people no longer have the payslips from in some cases six years ago and/or their former employer no longer exists.
If you do not begin payments within two weeks, you may receive a letter from the debt recovery agency.
ISSUE: You may still believe the decision is wrong but once the debt is raised, you have to begin paying it.
ISSUE: The reviews take months, and in the meantime, you may still be pursued for the debt. Some were told to start paying it back and be reimbursed later — but many say they do not have the hundreds of dollars to spare.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14