A young Australian who received Youth Allowance at the height of the COVID-19 crisis is claiming the Government is ordering him to pay the money back.
A 22-year-old man by the handle of ‘@hojusep’ revealed on TikTok that Centrelink advised him he would have to return around $3,000 he received in welfare payments last year.
“I got a letter from Centrelink saying that I’m now classed as ‘ineligible’ for the coronavirus support package I received in 2020, and now they’re asking me to pay all of it back,” he said in the video.
“It’s a welfare payment. You can’t just ask people to pay it back to you when you change your mind. What the hell?”
Watch the TikTok video below:
In another video responding to comments, the TikToker, whose name is Joseph, said Centrelink’s letter told him he had not met the specific requirements to receive Youth Allowance during 2020.
To be eligible for Youth Allowance if you're between 18 and 24, you must be studying full time or doing a full-time apprenticeship, according to Services Australia's website.
Centrelink will also classify you as either dependent or independent, but does not specify on its website which one makes you eligible for the allowance.
“They still provided me with the payment, I didn’t falsify any information,” Joseph said.
“But now they’re asking me to pay it back.”
Joseph claimed in another video that Centrelink had the power to retrospectively decide that someone was ineligible for payments that had already been issued, and had the power to ask for it to be repaid.
“I just think it’s ridiculous with welfare payments that the Government will happily make you repay a payment, if they think you’re not eligible,” he said.
People who are no longer eligible for a payment should have those payments cancelled or offered resources, rather than told to repay it, Joseph added.
“It’s welfare. This isn’t a loan. I didn’t provide any false information. I submitted everything correctly at the time,” he said.
“This is not my mistake; it shouldn’t be something I’m responsible for.”
‘Paying back money I didn’t even ask for’
Other Aussie TikTok users claimed they had received something similar from Centrelink.
“I got the same thing,” one said in the comments.
Yet another expressed confusion that they were being asked to return the payments.
“It’s so frustrating because the payments were automatic, so now I’m paying back money I didn’t even ask for… More than a year later,” the user said.
JobSeeker payments were effectively doubled when the COVID-19 crisis first hit last year, with recipients receiving the Coronavirus Supplement of $550 on top of their typical $565.70 payments.
Recipients didn’t need to do anything to get the bonus $550; it was automatically provided to those who received JobSeeker payments.
The Coronavirus Supplement was extended twice but reduced in size, to $350 and then $150, before it was wound down altogether.
'We're here to help': Services Australia responds
In a statement, a Services Australia spokesman told Yahoo Finance that the agency is legally required to collect overpayments when it occurs.
"If a customer doesn’t understand why they’ve received a debt, we encourage them call us on their regular payment line in the first instance, and ask us to explain," Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said.
"If a customer disagrees with a decision we’ve made, they can ask for a review. They can also provide new information at any time to make sure they’re getting the right support."
He added that Services Australia is aware people are "still doing it tough".
"We want them to know we’re here to help.
"People who have a debt don’t need to repay it all at once. Most people set up a payment arrangement and repay it over time," Jongen said.
"We will work with anyone experiencing hardship to come up with a solution that suits their needs."