Reports of Centrelink debts pile up in Hunter Region

Hunter residents are being slugged tens of thousands of dollars by the federal government as part of its widely criticised Centrelink debt notice saga.

Under fire: The federal government has been heavily criticised for a debt collection program that many people claim has been incorrectly targeting people.

Under fire: The federal government has been heavily criticised for a debt collection program that many people claim has been incorrectly targeting people.

Fairfax Media received an overwhelming response when it put the call out on social media this week looking for people who believe they have been mistakenly issued a debt repayment notice from federal welfare agency Centrelink.

Hunter residents have reported that they’ve received debt notices ranging from a couple of thousand dollars to as much as $48,000.

Many debts are related to alleged over-payments made by Centrelink – some dating back several years.

While many have appealed, they have been told by the Department of Human Services that they have to begin paying off their debt while their circumstances are reviewed.

Emma Meldrum, 26, said she received a notice a fortnight before Christmas saying that she owed the government $11,912.98.

Ms Meldrum received Youth Allowance benefits to subsidise income from casual work while she studied at the University of Newcastle between 2010 and 2013.

She said she had previously paid back a debt of about $2000 for Centrelink over payments, which had been a tough task, so she was surprised to receive another debt notice – let alone one that was substantially larger.

“I am shocked, devastated and frantically trying to work out how this could possibly be,” she said.

Meanwhile, another Hunter resident told Fairfax Media he had received a debt notice for about $2600 related to Family Tax Benefits – which he says he has never claimed.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman launched an investigation into the issue on Monday, which became national news in December amid claims that Centrelink’s new computer system – which cross references data with Australian Taxation Office records – had incorrectly issued thousands of debt notices. There have been calls for the government to shelve the scheme.