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Centrelink reporting halt raises debt concerns

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Services Australia has suspended reporting obligations under its coronavirus response but is providing welfare recipients their full eligible payment until April 3, leaving some Centrelink clients earning other income concerned that they’ll be asked to repay any potential debt.

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The automatic payments were prompted by issues with Centrelink’s reporting online reporting system, after the Federal Government’s MyGov website crashed last week when hundreds of thousands of people were made jobless due to coronavirus shutdowns.

Centrelink client Naomi Catron told InDaily that she tried on Tuesday to report her past fortnightly earnings through MyGov.

She was unable to declare the earnings she had made from her retail job in the last two weeks.

“When I tried to input my hours it said, ‘zero hours and zero pay’ and it wouldn’t let me adjust my hours or payment. My husband tried to report on his phone and he also couldn’t add any information into the system,” Catron said.

“We got paid the full payment today, because the system has reported us as both having earned zero dollars, which now puts the responsibility on us to change it. We have to call them within 14 days to change it.

“We have kids and it’s so stressful, because now we could have a debt with Centrelink – not through any fault of our own.”

Catron’s MyGov app.

According to Services Australia’s Facebook page, welfare recipients who were normally due to report their income between March 30 and April 3 did not need to report their earnings and would be paid automatically.

Services Australia – formerly the Department of Human Services – said welfare recipients who did have income to report from the past two weeks had 14 days to advise Centrelink of their earnings.

A social media post said those who were “setup for a PIN (personal identification number)” and did have income to report could call 13 EARN to declare their earnings.

PINs are personal numbers selected to register for Centrelink’s telephone self-service facilities. They can’t be used to log on to online services.

 

A screen grab from Services Australias Facebook page.

Kym Mercer, from the Anti-Poverty Network, said while welfare recipients’ payments being made in full “sounded good in theory” it was “a catch 22”.

“They’re reporting for people because no-one can get through to Centrelink. But that means that everyone who has to report this week … has 14 days to have their payment adjusted,” Mercer said.

She said people who were not able to get through to Centrelink within the allotted time could be hit with a “failure to report debt”.

“It’s different to a robodebt, which is where your income for the year is averaged. This is the same as if someone was reporting incorrectly.”

Catron said she was never advised by the government social security agency that she wouldn’t need to report her earnings.

“I went onto their social media page and heaps of people were commenting on there saying that they were unable to report,” she said.

“I’ll now have to spend all day trying to get onto Centrelink with four kids who I’m meant to be home-schooling. It’s something I didn’t need. It’s hard enough trying to get the right supplies and look after your family, without this added stress.

“People need to try and now put that money aside so they don’t spend it … with all of the stimulus packages, people might not realise this money is an error and might think it’s one of those stimulus packages and have a debt.”

The Services Australia Facebook post telling people they don’t have to declare earrings has amassed thousands of comments from people confused about the system.

InDaily sought comment from Services Australia on Wednesday and Thursday but has not received a reply.

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