A case of mistaken identity saw a Sydney woman told she had to pay back $45,000 to Centrelink for benefits she never received.
When Tracey Donaldson*, 43, received the bill last month telling her she owed the government the huge amount she had supposedly received in parental allowance she began to hyperventilate and panic.
She was told she had to pay up immediately or she would be banned from travelling overseas and the government would draw money out of her bank accounts to cover the debt.
The threats persisted despite the fact Ms Donaldson was not a Centrelink user and does not have any children, reports ABC news.
Ms Donaldson describes the overwhelming despair which took over when she got the letter.
A case of mistaken identity has landed a Sydney woman with a $45,000 debt from Centrelink (stock image)
‘I don’t have panic attacks very often, but I actually started hyperventilating,’ she said.
‘I was so frustrated and no-one was giving me information.’
The Centrelink debt was intended for a woman with the same name, who lived in the same suburb with almost exactly the same birthday.
Eventually the mistake was discovered, leading to an apology from the Department of Human Services and her name being cleared.
Human Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen assured it was an isolated incident and said there are no wider issues.
‘We take our commitment to protecting customer privacy very seriously. We can assure the community this is an isolated incident and there are no wider issues,’ he said in a statement.
The debacle followed a long list of blunders by the Department of Human Services.
The Department has been under increasing pressure from welfare groups and social rights organisations to overhaul the controversial robodebt recovery system.
The head of the Australian Council of Social Services Cassandra Goldie told Daily Mail Australia it was alarming the first notification of the debt was in letter form.
Welfare recipients across the country have been receiving debts for money they don’t owe the Department of Human Services
‘There should be greater checks and balances before debts are charged. Centrelink guidelines advise that it is appropriate to call the person if the debt is large before sending out a debt notice,’ she said.
‘We are concerned that staff cuts and privatisation of Centrelink services means that staff do not have the time or expertise to ensure that proper procedures are being followed.’
The Shadow Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten slammed the debacle as ‘chaotic, unjust and a shambles’ in a statement to Daily Mail Australia.
‘The standard of proof the Government is using to scare Australians with allegations they owe a debt is disturbingly low,’ he said.
‘Now they are going around hitting innocent Australians for $45,500 simply because they have the same name as someone else in a different state? That is not good enough.’
He has vowed to continue putting pressure on the government to pay back others impacted by the robodebt scheme.
* – name has been changed
Source: dailymail UK