money & Banking

Courtney Allan

“I considered suicide”: How Centrelink notices are impacting Australian women

 “I considered suicide”: How Centrelink notices are impacting Australian women

People across the country have been impacted by Centrelink’s new automated letter system that alerts people to their debts with the organisation.

In 2016, 20,000 letters in total were sent out in a year. Thanks to a new system, 20,000 letters are now being sent out a week – over 1 million notices.

This means more and more people are having to deal with the fallout of a Centrelink debt.

“It was demeaning, embarrassing, and if it wasn’t for my son… I considered suicide,” one woman explained.

For some receivers of the letter, they have never needed to apply for Centrelink. This was the case for Gabriella* who spoke to Mamamia about what she went through.

After dealing with the death of her husband and having to raise two young children on her own, she checked her mailbox to discover a letter from Centrelink demanding their $13,000 back.

According to Centrelink, they had sent her weekly increments and they wanted them back.

“The stress … I was already dealing with enough … I knew I didn’t owe them money,” Gabriella explained, as she had never applied for assistance in the first place.

“I made a phone call first, they realised they’d made a mistake. But she [the person on the phone] couldn’t fix it.

“My situation never should have happened, if there had been a human being looking at my account they would have realised it was bouncing back.

“It was dismay. It was a shock to the system. It is scaremongering, they don’t explain anything, and it’s very … dehumanising,”

It seems that this was the case for another woman in Margaret River in Western Australia.

Gillian was a single parent receiving payments from Centrelink and decided to start her own beauty therapy business. She hired an accountant and a bookkeeper to keep on top of everything, and nearly fainted when she received a letter from Centrelink asking for their $23,000 back.

“I nearly had a heart attack. I nearly fainted,” exclaimed Gillian.

Her accountant hadn’t been declaring her single parent payments on her tax returns, which was why she was asked for the money.

“I contacted Centrelink, I spent hours on the phone, I begged for an account manager I could go and see in person.

“Every time I called I got a new person, they were judgemental and they treated me like a thief. It went on for months,” Gillian explained.

“I know some people are genuinely fraudulent, but lots of people are genuine – mistakes are made – the way they [Centrelink] dealt with it was demeaning, embarrassing – I almost had a nervous breakdown,”

Gillian ended up having to pay the Centrelink fine, which took years to pay off. Gillian was worried she’d go to jail and considered a dark way out.

“I considered it [suicide]. I thought ‘I can’t go to jail’, I can only imagine what would have happened if I didn’t have my accountant to prove my case,” Gillian said.

Both women have agreed that they would never take another cent from Centrelink again.

“I can’t emotionally face the trauma of having to explain and justify myself to this system,” explained Gabriella.

Has this happened to you or anyone you know? Let us know in the comments.

*Name has been changed.