Expert Opinion Panel
Jason Bryce – Business & Finance Specialist
Single mothers targeted by Centrelink’s robo-debt campaign
5 ways to avoid being branded a Centrelink welfare cheat
By Jason Bryce | 03 February 2017
Have you checked your My Gov inbox lately? Single mothers are being targeted by Centrelink
Have you checked your My Gov inbox lately? Single mothers are being targeted for scrutiny by Centrelink’s robo-debt campaign. You won’t like hearing it and the government doesn’t boast about it, but most Aussies who get branded as “welfare cheats” are single mothers.
Maybe you just aren’t the most organised person. Maybe you haven’t done your tax return. Maybe you just made a mistake or forgot to update your details or missed a reporting date. Whatever. You think Centrelink’s computer cares about your overworked life? Sympathy doesn’t compute in the new world of robo-debts, so take charge read our 5 ways to ensure you aren’t branded a welfare cheat…
- Immediately tell Centrelink your income has changed, the same day it changes
Don’t miss a report. And tell them the exact date you start a new job. And finish a job. The exact date.
If you are registered for Newstart, or Parenting Payment Single and are working, even if you don’t get any Newstart or PPS, still keep reporting every fortnight. Don’t stop reporting until you are settled into a permanent position and leave the system. And now Family Tax Benefit end of year supplements are gone for people earning over $80,000, some mums will have not have balancing payments if their income has increased through the year. If your income from work has increased, you might be a welfare cheat
- Check your MyGov inbox
Even if it’s years since you received any Parenting Payment, Newstart or Family Tax Benefits, they might just now be matching your payments with information from the tax office. Many people now caught up in the ‘robo-debt’ debacle didn’t respond to a previous letter sent to their MyGov inbox. They quickly have been labelled welfare cheats.
- Respond to letters
If you don’t respond to a letter asking for more information, the next letter will detail an overpayment and the amount you owe. They may start reducing your benefits to repay the debt. The onus of proof is on you to disprove the debt because you have been branded a welfare cheat.
- Be careful who you tell about your new boyfriend.
You found a great new guy? Or girl even? That’s fantastic. But you want to take it slowly right? Maybe not move in right away? But their car is in the driveway every night. You are a couple on Facebook. And that is the new test of whether you are a couple. If you live together, identify online and in public as a couple, you need to get off Parenting Payment Single as soon as possible and onto the partnered rate.
A case in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 2015 has set legal precedent for all single mums. Your Facebook announcements can be used in evidence against you. Tania Sharp and her ‘house-mate’ Darren O’Brien, announced on Facebook their mutual joy at finally falling pregnant after months of trying. Four months later Centrelink cut off Tania’s Parenting Payment Single, presumably after a report from a ‘friend.’ Tania then tried to argue that the conception was a result of a “one-night stand” but the Tribunal found she was a member of a couple based on Facebook evidence.
Centrelink only check social media if they have a report from one of your ‘friends’ or your ex-partner. It’s so easy to make an anonymous report to Centrelink and suddenly you are a welfare cheat.
But there is another side of the coin. You MAY be able to live with your ex-partner or another person and still receive Parenting Payment Single. Sometimes couples just have to remain in the same house long after the close intimate relationship has ended, because its so expensive to maintain separate addresses.
Sometimes two single parents can share a house to cut down on costs. Centrelink may ask you some extra questions but if you genuinely are not a couple you should be ok. Long gone are the days when they will randomly come to your home and check the sock drawer. You are not a welfare cheat.
For more need-to-know information on what the government have in store for single parents, read our latest article Centrelink 2017 cuts single parents should know about, and if you enjoyed reading this article, please give it a like or share below.
Business & Finance Journalist
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Jason is a business and finance journalist with 20 years experience, and is also a member of the SingleMum.com.au Expert Opinion Panel. He has a regular weekly column in the Sunday Mail (Brisbane) and writes regularly for the Business Daily section of the Herald Sun in Melbourne and many other newspapers and magazines. Read Jason Bryce’s full profile here
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