How parents owe Centerlink thousands of dollars in childcare benefits due to a subsidy gap?

Shocked Australian mothers are plagued by huge bills with just weeks to pay, as the government imposes recoveries on what it believes are overpaid childcare subsidies.

Some say they have been hit with demands of up to $17,000 each to be paid in just eight weeks, otherwise they face potential legal action to collect the debt.

But parents have criticized the federal government’s campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, and many are already struggling to make ends meet.

Others have also questioned the cash claim formula that in some cases appears to be based on false income figures, with estimated incomes as high as $60,000 per year.

Shocked Australian mothers are plagued by huge bills with just weeks to pay as government recovers from what it claims are overpaid childcare subsidies (stock footage)

Shocked Australian mothers are plagued by huge bills with just weeks to pay as government recovers from what it claims are overpaid childcare subsidies (stock footage)

With families facing layoffs and reduced hours due to the current Covid lockdowns, the unexpected bills will negate the savings.

A mother, Rebecca Coulson, 42, was hit with two bills totaling $11,000 within a week of each other, dating back to childcare subsidies from 2018.

The first bill of $7,665 arrived last month and was due on September 22, and the second of $3,743 arrived two weeks later and is due on September 24.

Ms Coulson, from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, lost her job as a sales director during the first shutdown in June last year. She wondered how the figure was calculated, as she says the family always used an accountant to file their tax returns.

Some parents say they have been hit with demands of up to $17,000 to be paid in just eight weeks or face potential legal action to collect the debt (stock image)

Some parents say they have been hit with demands of up to $17,000 to be paid in just eight weeks or face potential legal action to collect the debt (stock image)

Some parents say they have been hit with demands of up to $17,000 to be paid in just eight weeks or face potential legal action to collect the debt (stock image)

“We pretty much lost a full income, that was my salary, and then we’re hit by these bills and I don’t know if another one is coming through,” she said. news.com.au.

“I don’t just have a bank account to find $11,000 in eight weeks. I’m homeschooling and there was already financial pressure and that’s another pressure we don’t need now.’

The bill now aims to negate the family’s dream of adding another child to their family through IVF, with the money set aside for treatment now likely to be used to pay the bill.

The spat comes in the wake of Centrelink’s robodebt scandal, in which 443,000 people were hit by demands to repay income support they claim they did not owe between 2015 and 2019.

Parents have criticized the federal government's campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

Parents have criticized the federal government's campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

Parents have criticized the federal government’s campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

The federal court later found that the robodebt system was flawed and ordered the government to repay $751 million to plaintiffs and drop its claims for an additional $1.76 billion in alleged debts.

At least one suicide was linked to the robodebt demands.

Hundreds of mothers on a Facebook group have now said they too have been affected by repayment demands for childcare subsidies.

Nadine Kliskey, 41, posted that she was hit by two demands totaling $3,700 – and was inundated by a flood of other moms who had received similar notices.

The mother-of-two says Centrelink told her they had postponed the demands due to the pandemic, but had doubts about the accuracy of the numbers and why they sent them during the current lockdown.

Moms have criticized the federal government's campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

Moms have criticized the federal government's campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

Moms have criticized the federal government’s campaign for coming into the midst of the pandemic, with many already struggling to make ends meet (stock image)

“Looking at the other moms in the groups, it’s a tough time right now and other parents are getting bills from $16,000 to $17,000,” she said.

“We already pay a lot more money than any other country for childcare – it just seems unfair.

“I won’t pay until someone can tell me this is correct…and I have to follow a payment plan to pay it back because I’m claiming disaster compensation for job loss, so I can’t throw it out $3500.”

Another mother added, “I just love it.

“To be billed three years ago, which is basically like “I’m sorry you forgot to pay this or we accidentally didn’t charge you and you have to pay now” – it wouldn’t stop in the business community.

“It’s not right.”

With families facing layoffs and reduced hours due to the current Covid lockdowns, the unexpected bills will wipe out the savings (stock image)

With families facing layoffs and reduced hours due to the current Covid lockdowns, the unexpected bills will wipe out the savings (stock image)

With families facing layoffs and reduced hours due to the current Covid lockdowns, the unexpected bills will wipe out the savings (stock image)

Services Australia says the claims were made after families either confirmed higher incomes than originally submitted when the childcare allowance was granted or because they failed to confirm an income figure.

The system automatically checks payments to families at the end of each fiscal year to see if they have been underpaid, overpaid or paid correctly.

Income tax returns or other income confirmation methods are used to calculate benefits owed and paid, with families given two years to confirm their income.

However, if there is no income confirmation within two years, Services Australia says they will send an IOU to families.

“We have recently reached two years since the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year and have sent letters to families who have still not confirmed their income,” a spokesperson said.

“Even though the deadline has passed, it’s not too late for families to take action and for us to reassess their debt.”

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