The bungled Centrelink debt-recovery controversy has again come under fire with a Perth woman claiming she was hounded to pay back more than $26,000 she allegedly didn't owe.
The Turnbull government is in the midst of trying to recover $4 billion believed to have been incorrectly paid to welfare recipients using Centrelink's new automated data matching system.
More than 17,000 debt notices were sent out by the Federal government over the Christmas break, with hundreds of people around Australia complaining they were wrongly hounded for repayments.
Following the litany of complaints, Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave said he would investigate the automated data-matching processes being used to check welfare recipients' eligibility for some Centrelink payments.
It came on the back of Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, Senator Nick Xenophon and Labor calling for the system to be shut down.
Perth woman Claire Etheridge said she was shocked when a letter from Centrelink claimed she owed $26,274.
"It had been a very stressful time," she told Radio 6PR on Wednesday morning.
"Having to deal with that and making complaints to Centrelink and getting calls at 6.30 in the morning because they didn't take the time difference into account from over east.
"I would get text messages from Centrelink saying they were going to call me that day, but they never did.
"I took time off work and I fought it... it was an absolute shambles."
After battling red tape for weeks, Ms Etheridge then got another letter from Centrelink saying she actually owed just $180 for an overpayment of Newstart Allowance from 2011.
She refused to believe she had any debt and, after numerous calls and complaints to Centrelink, it turned out she was actually underpaid and owed close to $5000.
"I'm glad I had to go through that but I don't wish it on anybody because it was an absolute debacle," she said.
"The reason I came forward is because I don't want other people to accept they actually owe money."
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge told Fairfax Media on Wednesday the system "wasn't flawed".
He said despite the ongoing controversy, the system would not be shut down.
"I don't accept that the system is fundamentally flawed," Mr Tudge told Fairfax Media.
"The basic methodology which underpins it is the same as has been used for many years now. It is simply because we are automating the process, we are able to do greater volumes.
"Different people will have different reasons why they are upset about receiving a letter from Centrelink but of course that is part of the situation, that a higher volume of letters has been going out."
Mr Tudge said the government would tweak the system to remove any glitches.
"There is a legal obligation upon us to send it to the address which they have on their Centrelink file, but perhaps we can do that as well as take other initiatives to ensure that they receive that first letter," he said.
On Tuesday, a Victorian-based Centrelink staffer told Fairfax Media staff warned the Department of Human Services that automated data matching would lead to incorrect debts being issued.
"They don't care about average Australians, they don't care about their customers or their staff," the woman said.
"We told them 'shit', that's not going to work when they explained how the computer was going to do the work and said that it was going to misrepresent people's income and lead to incorrect debts going out, but they just told us 'computers and data can't be wrong'.
"They wanted to save a shitload of money and weren't interested in hearing what we thought about it."
The story Perth woman claims Centrelink hounded her for $26,000 debt but she was owed $5k first appeared on WA Today.