Fraser Coast mum fights Centrelink debt claim
TINA Greenhalgh had received just $556 from Centrelink before she received a letter claiming she owed the government almost $6000.
The Brooweena mother says she is one of the thousands of Centrelink recipients across Australia who have been asked to pay imaginary debts, thanks to a faulty computer algorithm.
The Federal Government and Centrelink have come under heavy criticism from all quarters over the automated system which was used to match welfare recipients' reported income, and is believed to be responsible for the false debts being calculated.
Ms Greenhalgh, 47, turned to Centrelink for financial support when a serious spinal condition stopped her from working as a disability lifestyle support worker.
On December 1, just weeks before undergoing life-changing surgery, Ms Greenhalgh was told by Centrelink she owed them $5,294.01 and also had to pay $480 in recovery costs.
On the same day, Ms Greenhalgh received another letter, again from Centrelink, which said the department owed her $50.80, which had been put back into her account.
For just over a month now, Ms Greenhalgh has been on the phone and in the Centrelink office, sometimes for more than two hours.
While also recovering from back surgery, Ms Greenhalgh said she "won't take the debt lying down" - taking her case to Centrelink's social workers, and the ombudsman.
"I'm frustrated because I was earning a good wage, I was employed with good employers, I was starting to have a stabilised life, I knew my health was going to get worse and as it did, I was in a stage of total helplessness," Ms Greenhalgh said.
"So to get this debt and to try to deal with it, it has had me in tears, but I turned around and said I'm just not going to let them get away with it."
So far Centrelink has lowered Ms Greenhalgh's "debt" to $4300, but money is still being taken out of her fortnightly payments.
The support worker added that she understood the mess was not the fault of the officers working at Centrelink, but said she was sick of people on social media implying the people in her position were "cheating the system".
"I've been frustrated and angry, and I don't appreciate being implied that I'm a Centrelink cheat; we did not create the problem," she said.
"I'm going to get back into the workforce, so to have this stigma, it's just wrong. There are reasons for Centrelink existing, there are reasons why some people need support."