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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 584

Ms COLLINS (Franklin) (10:32): One of the biggest issues that my electorate office has been dealing with over the summer period has been the Centrelink robo-debts. I have been concerned, since we came back to this place in the last few days, that the two ministers responsible—the Minister for Social Services and the Minister for Human Services—are not aware of the concern that this is causing in the community or they seem not to care about it. So I thought I would tell some stories that I have been receiving in my electorate office and from a public meeting that I held last week, to give people an understanding of how this is impacting on people in our community.

I want to start with Bill. Bill is now an age pensioner but he was working part time, driving a bus for four hours a day and getting a part-Newstart allowance. Bill got a robo-debt letter saying that he owed $3½ thousand or thereabouts. Bill tried to tell Centrelink that the name of his employer and the name that the ATO and Centrelink were using for data matching was different and why it was different. It took him quite a bit of time and energy to try and get through this. But they said to him, 'You've got to start paying this debt anyway while we work it out.' He said, 'I'm happy to pay $10 a week while you resolve it and sort it out.' They said to him, 'You can't do that because we know you've got money in the bank; you need to pay it up-front.' So he paid the whole debt in full, $3½ thousand. He knows he does not owe that money, and he is now stressed that he is never going to get back that money that he has already paid. So that is one example; that is Bill.

Maree is a 70-year-old pensioner who received a debt notice. She went through all of her bank statements and totalled up what Centrelink had paid her over the period that they were talking about. She found that Centrelink had actually paid her less than what they were claiming to have paid her. So Centrelink's debt letter actually shows that they owe her money, if what they are saying is true.

She has had this debate with Centrelink and she has gone through it all with them and they said, 'Well, you have to prove it to us.' She has spent hours on the phone. She now has to employ an accountant to do her numbers for her so that she can clear up this debt with Centrelink.

There is a another woman—a professional woman—who was on Youth Allowance who got a debt notice for $5,400 that goes back to 2012. She phones Centrelink and she was told that she needed to pay the debt and then she got an email saying, 'Oh no, you don't owe the debt.' And then, in the meantime, she got a notice saying that her debt was going to a debt collector. She has found it really difficult to get through to Centrelink, and her frustration was palpable. She works full time. She has two degrees, she is trying to sort out this issue with Centrelink and she does not have the time in her working day to talk to Centrelink. She is getting extremely stressed. She still does not know whether or not she owes this debt. It is a debacle and the government needs to fix it.