Recently, an article was published in the Age and media across the country about how the Government is forecasting clawing back payments of the Aged Pension and Disability Support Pension (DSP). It is widely believed this will be done in the same way Newstart and Youth Allowance payments have been over the last few months, using a controversial data-matching program, commonly known as the ‘robo-debt’ campaign.

This news is incredibly stressful for me and, no doubt, also for so many others with a mental health issue. The so-called Debt Recovery System has been averaging out work payments from Australian Tax Office records over any year from the past five years, meaning that people like me, who have been engaging in paid work on and off depending on my mental health, will potentially be targeted. This will happen even if I—as I did—made accurate declarations of income every fortnight when working over those years.

I have already started to get documents together, in anticipation for the debt letter which could be claiming I owe thousands of dollars and have only three weeks to prove otherwise. Phone lines could be clogged and information could be hard to come by. Then, if I don’t provide those documents in time they could send me to Debt Collection. That is exactly how it has played out for so many Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients and has caused much distress and panic for those more than 200,000 letters already sent. With the talk of extending this program to people on the DSP and Pension, we could see a further increase in distress.

It brings up memories of the 2014 budget, where I found out I would be re-assessed for the DSP as someone under 35. I was reliant on it completely, really struggling with mental health issues, and this news was incredibly destabilising for me. When things deteriorated to the point that I needed to be admitted to a hospital or Prevention and Recovery Care (PARC) program, explicitly because of this news, I was told repeatedly that there was much higher demand due to so many other young people like me experiencing distress and panic over this news. It can be an incredibly powerless experience to feel like your basic financial support could be taken away with little to no knowledge of what could be involved to maintain it at a time when you are already feeling vulnerable.

I encourage those that are feeling distress over the news today to get support from your Family, Friends and Community. Also People experiencing mental health issues, as well as their family, friends and carers, can always contact Wellways’ Helpline on 1300 111 500.

Also a great website has been set up by volunteers for advice, information and ideas about what can be done.

Wellways Peer Consultant