An aged pensioner who feared “losing everything” over an incorrect bill from the Robodebt scheme was forced to make repayments on the debt while she was still contesting it.
- The Royal Commission into the Robodebt Scheme resumed hearings for 2023 on Monday
- Witness Rosemary Gay said receiving an incorrect bill for almost $65,000 “turned my life upside down”
- Former government ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge are set to give evidence next week
Rosemary Gay wiped away tears while telling the royal commission into the Robodebt scheme about her “sheer terror” after receiving a debt notice for almost $65,000.
Ms Gay said the trauma would “remain with her forever”.
She told the commission she was living alone, working two days a week and receiving an aged pension when she received a Robodebt bill for $64,998.17 in late September 2016 — due to be repaid in a month.
She said the amount was “impossible” for her to owe: firstly because she had always reported her income “meticulously” to Centrelink; and secondly because she “never earned that much money”.
“They couldn’t possibly have overpaid me that amount of money, they would’ve had to have paid me a hugely larger sum,” she told the commission.
While fighting back tears, she said her first thoughts were of being forced to “sell her house” and “losing everything”.
“Everything I had worked for in my 70 years, I just saw it all going away instantly,” she said.
“It just turned my life upside down and created an enormous emotional and mental strain on me.”
Ms Gay told the commission of the hours she spent on the phone trying to navigate a confusing system to contest the debt.
Staff consultant called ‘God’
She said she spoke to numerous Centrelink staff and retold her story countless times, before she was transferred to an official the staff bizarrely referred to as ‘God’.
“He said they’ve put in a new system that hasn’t been tested and it has a glitch,” Ms Gay said.
He explained that glitch had noticed she made a “larger wage for a week and then multiplied it by every year”.
“They therefore considered that I’d earned that figure every week from 2010 to 2016. And it also included interest,” Ms Gay said.
“How did you feel after your conversation with God?” Counsel Assisting Douglas Freeburn asked.
“I felt that they were going to work on it and that surely they would see that there isn’t any way I owe them any money, let alone any money to that degree,” Ms Gay said.
Ms Gay contested the debt and said she felt confident it would be waived.
However, she told the commission she was still required to sacrifice part of her pension as debt repayment, even while her case was being assessed.
“It had a significant effect on me because my earnings were very little, my expenses in living in a home as we all have and my budget would be budgeted out every fortnight,” she said.
“Having anything deducted from my pension did place me under financial strain.”
‘Hours and hours on the phone’
Her debt was reassessed from $65,000 to $6,683.16 in October 2016 – which Ms Gay said she still believed was wrong.
“Again, I was in shock,” she said.
“It was hard at the time to control my emotions and discuss it with them because it was a matter of hours and hours on the phone attempting to discuss the situation.
“It was a very dark period of time for me and one that’s difficult to even re-live.”
She applied again for a reassessment and her debt was lowered to just $120, in November 2016.
“I was shocked and angry by this time to think that they could initially cause such a traumatic experience to anybody accessing support from a pension,” she said.
“That they could turn someone’s life upside down and tell them they had owed that amount of money and then do reassessment and still get it wrong.
“It’s just laughable.”
Four years later, in 2020, Ms Gay received a letter telling her that debt had been waived and that any repayments she had made would be refunded.
“I just think it was immoral that it took them that time to admit they made that mistake, and I think they only admitted they made the mistake because of the groundswell at the time with victims, we call ourselves victims, of this Robodebt,” she said.
“It will continue to remain with me forever. It’s something you never get over.”
A common example
Lyndsey Jackson founded an online advocacy group called NotMyDebt – aimed at helping victims of the Robodebt scheme.
“A key function of the website was for people to share their stories about the debt amounts, whether it went to debt collection, how the debt was affecting them,” she said.
She told the commission that people were issued debts they felt were incorrect and that “there was a lot of anxiety and stress” about the process of contesting the debts.
“People were being contacted by debt collectors, they were facing homelessness, they were worried they were going to get in trouble and lose their kids,” Ms Jackson said.
“Some people were being told they weren’t allowed to travel overseas if they had a debt. There were a lot of different notices that were going around at the time. One had the AFP logo on it. So there was a lot of fear and concern from the community.”
The royal commission is expected to hear evidence from former Coalition government ministers Christian Porter and Alan Tudge next week.
#Centrelinks #God #sort #Rosemarys #impossible #Robodebt #bill
[ad_1] Kate Middleton has been seen publicly for the first time since December.“Kensington Palace made it clear in January the...
[ad_1] Angela Rayner has faced questions over the last two weeks on whether she was liable to pay capital gains...
[ad_1] Teixeira, 22, was accused of posting hundreds of pages of classified documents about the ongoing war in Ukraine on...
[ad_1] Not since Theodore Roosevelt ran against William Howard Taft in 1912 have voters gotten the opportunity to weigh the...
[ad_1] At a time of book bans and efforts by state legislatures to ban drag shows, the performer and television...
[ad_1] A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for...