COVID-19 and Centrelink debts

COVID-19 and Centrelink debts

The rules about repaying debts to Centrelink have changed because of COVID-19 coronavirus. If Centrelink says you owe them money, there are five things you need to know:

  • you can ask Centrelink to delay all repayments
  • some debts, called robo-debts, are not lawful. If you have a robo-debt, Centrelink must cancel the debt and refund any payments you made. To find out what robo-debts are, see What if I have a robo-debt?
  • if you have a Centrelink debt, including a robo-debt, you may not be able to get an advance payment
  • if you disagree with a Centrelink debt, you can ask Centrelink to review it
  • if you are not sure about your rights, you can get legal advice. See Get help with Centrelink.

What can I do if Centrelink says I owe money?

If Centrelink says you owe them money, you may have a repayment plan. A repayment plan lets you make part-payments until you finish paying off your debt. The repayments are usually deducted each fortnight from your Centrelink pension or allowance.

If you have a repayment plan, you can ask Centrelink to delay your repayments until 3 October 2020. Centrelink calls this a debt pause. To ask for a debt pause, call the Services Australia (Centrelink) debt line on 1300 076 072. You can ask for your repayments to be put on hold until 3 October 2020.

Centrelink will not charge you interest if your debt is put on hold.

For more information about Centrelink debts, see Centrelink debts.

What if I have a robo-debt?

Last year, a court decided that Centrelink debts were not legal if they were calculated automatically with information from the Australian Tax Office. These debts are often called robo-debts. The government is now checking all robo-debts and will give refunds to people who paid them.

Sometimes Centrelink used payslips or bank statements as well as information from the tax office to raise debts. These may also be unlawful robo-debts.

To work out if your debt is lawful, see Robo-debts. To find out what you can do about a robo-debt, see Dealing with an unlawful robo-debt.

If Centrelink used the robo-debt method to work out your debt, they should pause your repayments until they check if your debt is lawful. You can call Services Australia (Centrelink) debt line on 1300 076 072 to ask for your repayments to be put on hold until your debt is reviewed.

If your debt is lawful and you must repay it, you can ask for a debt pause. See What can I do if Centrelink says I owe money?

If your debt is not lawful, you can ask Centrelink to cancel your debt and refund any money you have paid.

For more information, see Robo-debts.

What if I need more money now?

Sometimes you can ask Centrelink for an advance payment. That means Centrelink will pay some of your pension or allowance early. This can help if you need to pay for something expensive and unexpected, such as car repairs or a new fridge.

If you have a Centrelink debt, even if it is paused, you might not be able to get an advance payment. This includes robo-debts.

Centrelink may assist you with crisis and special help.

What if I disagree with a Centrelink debt?

You have the right to ask for a review of most Centrelink debts. A review means that Centrelink will check whether you really owe them money. There is no time limit on asking for a review. You can even ask for a review after you have repaid a debt.

If you ask for a review, Centrelink can check whether the debt:

  • should have been made in the first place
  • was correctly calculated
  • should be cancelled because of your special circumstances or Centrelink errors.

If you disagree with Centrelink’s review decision, you can ask the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review Centrelink’s decision.

See Centrelink debts and Disagree with a Centrelink decision?

Can I stop paying off my fines?

If you are paying off fines with a Centrelink repayment plan, you can ask Fines Victoria to put your fines on hold for 60 days.

If you have received a new fine because of COVID-19 coronavirus, see COVID-19 and fines. For information about other fines, see Fines and infringements.

Can I get help to sort out my money?

If you are having trouble with debts and managing your money, you can get help from a free financial counsellor through the National Debt Helpline.

More information

Learn more about legal issues and COVID-19 coronavirus

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Centrelink

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Centrelink debts

Visit our ‘Find legal answers’ page on Robo-debts

See Economic Justice Australia self-help resources

Where to get help

See Get help with Centrelink

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