'I got a Centrelink debt notice even doing everything by the book'

"I already live a frugal lifestyle, but seem to get by. Maybe I can give up eating and become one of those people who live on air."

It was an ordinary day, until I looked at my mail. There was a letter from Centrelink that I just did not understand. I rang the number provided, as it seemed to be about a debt. The very kind man on the other end of the phone explained that sometime in the 2011/2012 financial year, I had been overpaid by Centrelink.

Confused, I checked my old work diary, as I had been working that year. Checking the dates, I remembered that I had emergency surgery and had needed three months to recover until I could get back to work. As I had only been at that job for less than a year, I had not accumulated enough sickness or holiday leave to pay me during that time. I had explained the situation to Centrelink, filled in the forms and they had paid me until I got back to work. I was very grateful for this.

During that time I was careful to ring them when I returned to work and started earning again, noting down receipt numbers and times I had contacted them. Life went back to normal with me earning my wages again. Until I received the letter. Apparently, I had been overpaid so had to find bank statements for that financial year, photograph them on my phone and upload them to the Centrelink website.

He calculated I had been overpaid $568 and could pay it back at $15 per fortnight. Ok, how had this happened, I asked as I reminded him that I had let them know of all changes taking place. He admitted it wasn’t anything I had done wrong, basically that it was an administration error and I would have to pay it. Fine.

Ad. Article continues below.

What I really found ironic that I am now retired, and I will be repaying Centrelink with Centrelink money. My rent went up so I will be needing to find $55 extra per fortnight to cover the debt and the rent. I am not too worried as I still have a bit of part time work, but it will be even tighter that usual. I already live a frugal lifestyle, but seem to get by. Maybe I can give up eating and become one of those people who live on air.

This is not a criticism of Centrelink. I am grateful for the times they have kept me afloat when jobs have been hard to come by, I am just confused that it took six years for them to find this error. I am a person who writes down receipt numbers, times of calls and keeps work diaries. I am glad I did, although it did nothing to change their mind. A debt is a debt, even when you are doing the right thing. Has this happened to any of you?

Have you ever received a debt letter despite doing everything by the book?