Woman is wrongly sent a $45,000 Centrelink bill and told she can’t contest it by blunder-prone DHS

Hyperventilating in panic: Woman is wrongly sent a $45,000 Centrelink bill and told she can’t contest it – as DHS robodebt system makes another blunder

  • A Sydney woman has been slapped with a $45,000 Centrelink debt
  • The woman was told she had been overpaid her parenting allowance 
  • But she doesn’t have any children and has never received government welfare

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.

When she told them this, she was informed they could not give her details on the matter because she could not prove her identity.  

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.’

To make matters worse she was only ten days away from an overseas holiday and she was being told she could not leave the country.  

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.   

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

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 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk