Sunday, 15 May 2022

    Man billed for last century debt

    A recently widowed pensioner from New South Wales was shocked and angry when he opened a letter last week that claimed he has owed Centrelink $67.55 since 1998, ABC News reports.

    Norm Austwick, from Mogareeka, on the state’s Far South Coast, said the letter, which claimed he was overpaid that amount 21 years ago, caused him considerable distress and wasted a good deal of his time.

    Eventually the Department of Human Services apologised to Mr Austwick and conceded the letter should never have been sent — but not before the 79-year-old had spent hours on the phone trying to get to the bottom of the matter.

    “I was very angry because my family thinks I’m obsessive about informing Centrelink of any changes and I believe it would be impossible for me to have a debt,” Mr Austwick said.

    “When you get a letter like that all you do is think about it and think about how unjust it is.

    “I am not a rogue, not a cheat, and I hate being cheated.”

    Mr Austwick said Centrelink should provide evidence for how it arrives at debts rather than just stating the amount that is owed.

    He said he knew of people who had queried their debt notices with Centrelink, only to have Centrelink reduce it.

    The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is calling for the government to reform its debt recovery system.

    ACOSS Senior Policy Officer Charmaine Crowe said Mr Austwick’s case proves the system needs to be more humane, accurate and fair.

    Meanwhile, Centrelink is also pursuing the debt of a deceased disability pensioner and other vulnerable people as part of its controversial “robodebt” scheme, the ABC adds.


    Pensioner angry to receive a $67.55 Centrelink debt from last century (ABC News)


    Centrelink robodebt raised against dead disability pensioner (ABC News)