By Ava Hubble
Expats Bob and Christine Hardwicke, of Gawler, South Australia, have been devasted by the news that they owe over $A9,400 to Australia's social security department, Centrelink.
The couple emigrated in 1971 and worked in Australia for nearly 30 years. Six years ago, when they applied for a means-tested Australian old age pension, they were obliged to declare any income they received from other sources. These included their combined partial British pension of about £15 ($A37.69) a week. But this was incorrectly logged by Centrelink as a monthly, instead of a weekly, payment. "The upshot is that we've been overpaid for about six years," said Mrs Hardwicke, 69.
She said she and her husband first became alarmed when a neighbour told them she had received a Centrelink bill for $A6,000 because her supplementary British pension had been incorrectly coded. When the Hardwickes heard of another similar case, they "started doing sums" and contacted Centrelink. Their worst fears, confirmed at an initial meeting, were followed by the arrival in the post of bills for $4,730.67 apiece.