TasCOSS News

Centrelink 'debt' recovery fact sheet
Monday 16 January 2017

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Factsheet: Centrelink’s online debt system

Centrelink is using a new online system to compare their income records with the Australian Tax Office records. This is to help Centrelink find out if people have been paid more than they should have been, and to calculate what people need to pay back to Centrelink.

If Centrelink has sent you a letter about your income, or you’ve been contacted by a debt collector, this factsheet can help you understand what that means, and what you can do. It has been adapted from the fact sheet developed by the National Welfare Rights Network, and may be updated as new information becomes available.

What does it mean if Centrelink sends you a letter telling you to go online and check your income?

This means Centrelink has noticed a difference between Australian Taxation Office records and the income you reported to Centrelink. For example, you may have used a different name for your employer in the information you gave to Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office.

Getting a letter doesn’t necessarily mean you owe money, or that you’ve committed fraud.

What do you need to do?

You need to go to the myGov.gov.au website using your Centrelink account details to respond to the Govletter. The letter will give you a deadline, and you must respond using myGov before this date.

When you log on to the myGov website, you’ll be asked to check some of the information Centrelink has, and make changes if it is not accurate. It may help to look at your old payslips. If you need more time to check details, you can use the myGov website to ask for an extension.

After you have finished making changes, Centrelink will automatically calculate whether you owe them money, and how much you owe.

If you do not owe money, a Centrelink officer may still call you if they need more information.

What if you need help using the myGov website?

For help setting up an account on the myGov website, you can call Centrelink or visit a Centrelink office. The myGov website also has information about how to get help – look for a “?” button.

Even if you call or visit Centrelink for help, you will still need to go online to the myGov website.

What if you miss the deadline in the letter?

Centrelink will automatically calculate how much you owe, and will add on a 10% recovery fee. The recovery fee is a penalty they can apply if they decide you knowingly or recklessly failed to declare all your income to Centrelink. When you go online, you will have the chance to say if there were personal factors that affected your ability to declare your income correctly.

How does Centrelink decide how much you owe?

Centrelink automatically calculates a debt based on information from the Australian Tax Office. If this information is not correct, Centrelink may think you owe money when you do not, or they may think you owe more than you should. That’s why it is important to check the information on the myGov website carefully.

Have you gotten a call from a debt collector without getting a letter from Centrelink?

Centrelink sends the letter to the last address it has for you, which may not be where you live now.

After the deadline in the letter passes, Centrelink calculates how much you owe and adds a 10% recovery fee. They may also add interest to the amount because of the delay in repayment.

If a debt collector calls you, you can still go onto the myGov website to try and resolve the issue. You may want to start repayments to reduce interest costs, even if you are not sure that the debt is correct. If you find out you don’t owe Centrelink money, any repayments will be refunded.

If you are in financial hardship, you can call Centrelink and ask for more time (usually up to 3 months) before you need to start repaying the debt.

Do you owe Centrelink money after updating your information online?

After you go online and update your information, if you agree with the amount Centrelink says you owe, you can set up repayments. Interest may be charged if you don’t make repayments before due dates.

If you disagree about the debt or are unsure, you can use the myGov website to go back and check your answers or see how the debt was worked out. There is also an option on the myGov website to have a Centrelink officer call you within 7 days to explain the debt.

You can also appeal at no cost to a Centrelink Authorised Review Officer. If this is successful, you can appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. You can get free legal advice to help with this (see www.welfarerights.org.au for a list of local services).

Do you want to give feedback or make a complaint about your experience?

You can reach Centrelink’s feedback and complaints line on 1800 132 468 or online at www.humanservices.gov.au/feedback. If you are not happy with their response, you can contact the Commonwealth Ombudsman on 1300 362 073, or at www.ombudsman.gov.au.

This factsheet has been adapted from information provided by the National Welfare Rights Network