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Single mum tells of $45,000 battle with Centrelink

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WHEN Carly Hockey realised her Centrelink payments had increased, she was assured by staff that everything was above board.

But now the government has changed its mind and hit her with a bill for over $45,000.

“I felt bullied … I found it very challenging and Centrelink, well, they certainly didn’t care about me,” Ms Hockey told A Current Affair.

A sole parent, Ms Hockey maintains the overpayment is a Centrelink error and that she repeatedly raised her concerns.

Ms Hockey’s problems began when she remarried and started collecting the Family Tax Benefit for her partner’s five children.

She told Centrelink that she only cared for her partner’s kids 50 per cent of the time and her two youngest children 100 per cent of the time.

But three months after the payment was in place, they started paying her as if she had all the children 100 per cent of the time.

“So I rang Centrelink straight away … we were very concerned and thinking, ‘what has gone on here?’ We haven’t changed any of our information, so why has this jumped up so much?” Ms Hockey said.

Ms Hockey claims the increased payments continued, despite her contacting Centrelink several times. Staff members assured her that the information she had given was correct and that an internal review would be conducted. Centrelink said if she did not hear from them, the issue had been resolved.

“We were reassured repeatedly that our payments were correct,” Ms Hockey told ACA.

But two years ago she received a series of bills saying she owed tens of thousands of dollars after being overpaid in the Family Tax Benefit.

Ms Hockey said Centrelink admitted the bills had been a computer-generated error but demanded that she still pay up.

She said she was “very concerned” when she received the bills, which Centrelink demanded she pay within 28 days.

Hockey said she had been determined to fight the bill as she had not done anything wrong.

“I’ve done everything correctly, she said. I’ve given them the right information. They admitted it was their mistake. So I was like ‘if it’s your mistake, then why is it my responsibility?”

Ms Hockey said her fight for justice was about more than just herself, saying “this goes on with a lot of other Australians.

The Queensland mother-of-four took her fight to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and won — but not before already paying off around $5000 of the outstanding debt.

Centrelink now says it will appeal against the decision after the tribunal ruled that she doesn’t have to pay the money back.

Ms Hockey now faces a lengthy and costly legal battle.

Django Merope-Synge, from social justice group GetUP, said Centrelink’s demands were “outrageous” and the situation was “a catastrophe”.

“I think it’s outrageous. I think good on her for fighting back and for taking this all the way.”

He said Ms Hockey had been treated badly by the government and that she had “done everything in her power to check it out at every point of the way”.

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