LETTER: The cost of government’s robot debt collection

I RECENTLY had the displeasure of a Department of Human Services “robo debt” assessment call. They are seeking detailed information about every single payslip I received over a 4½-year period over five years ago while on Austudy and also working various casual jobs. 

Some of this information I can obtain relatively easily. To obtain the rest, the Westpac bank have kindly offered to print my bank statements, at a cost to me per statement.

So, at the moment my only option to avoid an incorrect debt of about $7000 is to pay potentially hundreds of dollars to obtain bank statements to prove that I in fact do not owe the department any money at all. 

I inquired as to whether the department would reimburse me for the money I need to pay my bank to get it this information. The answer was no. 

It is interesting that the Australian Taxation Office seems to know every time we even so much as blink, yet they can’t obtain this information regarding my income. 

I know where they have pulled this $7000 figure from. Without pay slips the department assumes that your pay is the same each fortnight. However in most cases, like mine, it’s simply a case of short periods of earning higher wages (such as overtime), which I reported to Centrelink at the time anyway.

Aside from this being incredibly frustrating, it raises questions about fairness. While major corporations dodge extraordinary amounts of tax with absolutely no consequences ever, the rest of us who mainly do the right thing get our honesty repaid with inaccurate debts. 

I can’t help but imagine that for many of the more vulnerable people in our community; the elderly, people who speak English as a second language and some people with disabilities for example, this process (which I believe has been deliberately made complex) will become all too hard and many will just accept massive debts in order to get the monkey of their backs. 

Moral of the story? Firstly, doing the right thing when a Centrelink customer doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere and secondly I need to stop banking with Westpac pronto. 

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