Shannon Moore hounded for $2500 debt after Centrelink error

Shannon Moore believes she was one of many Australians caught up by Centrelink's automated debt recovery system, which has wrongly accused thousands of people of owing money to the federal government. Picture: Geoff Jones
Shannon Moore believes she was one of many Australians caught up by Centrelink's automated debt recovery system, which has wrongly accused thousands of people of owing money to the federal government. Picture: Geoff Jones

Shannon Moore of East Kurrajong is still furious months after being threatened with legal action over a supposed $2500 Centrelink debt.

She was one of thousands stung by Centrelink’s highly criticised automated debt recovery system was rolled out late last year.

Adding insult to injury said Ms Moore, 22, was the fact that Federal politicians were being exposed for ripping off taxpayers for far more substantial amounts than she allegedly owed.

Ms Moore, an aged care worker and former university and TAFE student, said she was bullied by debt collection agency Dun and Bradstreet into repaying $2524 to Centrelink.

She said a sent by the company threatened legal action should she refuse to pay the amount.

Ms Moore claimed she did not owe the money, and had made repeated attempts with Centrelink to advise them of a change in her circumstances, which went ignored, and subsequently lead to her receiving the debt notice.

Since rolling out the new system 170,000 letters have been sent to welfare recipients claiming they must pay back thousands of dollars for incorrect claims.

Ms Moore said prior to receiving the debt notice in June, 2016, she was receiving youth allowance because she was studying full time.

However, she said she had made repeated attempts to inform Centrelink she no longer needed the full youth allowance claim.

Ms Moore said Centrelink staff told her she was still eligible for youth allowance as she was still studying, yet months later, the debt notice arrived demanding the money be paid back.

She said she tried to dispute this, however, Centrelink staff were aggressive. She said one even accused her of “rorting the system”.

“I put an appeal through. I have spoken to a bunch of staff at Centrelink and none of them really wanted to help out,” Ms Moore said.

“When I finally got through and into the appeal process, I got a man who was quite rude and didn't want to help at all. He accused me of rorting the system twice, despite the fact I had contacted Centrelink twice to update my details.”

Shannon Moore with the letter she received from debt collectors Dun and Bradstreet, demanding immediate payment of just over $2500. Picture: Geoff Jones (Note: this picture has been digitally edited to hide some of Ms Moore's personal details.)

Shannon Moore with the letter she received from debt collectors Dun and Bradstreet, demanding immediate payment of just over $2500. Picture: Geoff Jones (Note: this picture has been digitally edited to hide some of Ms Moore's personal details.)

Ms Moore said Centrelink then engaged debt collection agency, Dun and Bradstreet.

“A woman said she would start a legal case against me and take my wages and my car if needed, all over $2500,” she said.

“This could go on my criminal record and I would lose my job, because any person in aged care can't have a criminal record.”

Ms Moore said she felt it was ridiculous how much effort was made to recover a debt so small, which she says she was told she was entitled to claim.

“I feel pretty upset and angry. We  told them multiple times my circumstances had changed, and they hadn't updated my details in the system,” she said.

“They have been very aggressive. It was pretty full on. Scaring young people into paying back the money ... while we are seeing all these politicians in scandals with travel allowances they are not entitled to get away with a slap on the wrist.”

Ms Moore said she reluctantly agreed to repay the debt, because she feared a criminal record and bad credit history.

The former federal Health Minister Sussan Ley recently resigned, after a number of questionable claims for travel were uncovered.

Other Ministers have been caught up in the scandal as well.

Mr Cormann is responsible for keeping government spending under control.

Labor Member for Macquarie Susan Templeman said her office had been inundated with calls seeking assistance, because Centrelink staff were being unhelpful.

“In a number of media interviews since he returned from holidays just this week Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, has insisted that the thousands of people slugged with false robo-debt notices were able to request assistance from Centrelink staff in person or by phone. We don’t find that to be the case,” she said.

Ms Templeman said it was sad to see the government treating people like criminals.

“Pensioners and people with disability should be treated with respect, they certainly don’t deserve to be treated like frauds and cheats by the Turnbull Government,” she said.

Ms Templeman said Sussan Ley’s actions damaged the reputation of all parliamentarians.

“I ran a small business for 25 years, and I’m well aware of the need to separate the personal from the business, and claim entitlements only when they are genuine,” she said.

“For me, the question was always: would this be acceptable to the ATO. Politicians need to be as accountable to the community as small businesses are to the ATO.

“Labor wants to see reform happen, including investigating the creation of a Federal ICAC, and I firmly believe that a robust, effective, and transparent expenses framework is necessary for all Members of Parliament so they can get on with the job.”