Owing money for a Centrelink debt

Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) we’re pausing some debt activities. We won’t pause your debt repayments if you already have a payment arrangement in place.

From July, you may get a refund on repayments you made to your income compliance debt. Read more about income compliance refunds.

What the coronavirus (COVID-19) debt pause is

We’ve paused a range of debt raising and recovery activities, including those connected to social security payments, Family Tax Benefit and Child Care Subsidy.

On 25 September, we extended our pause on a range of debt raising and recovery activities until 30 October 2020. This means that during these difficult times you can focus on your personal situation.

The debt pause will continue to be assessed on a monthly basis.

We won’t pause your debt repayments if you already have a payment arrangement in place. You can keep paying off your debt as normal; you don’t need to do anything. If you need to reduce or stop your repayments for a period, call us on the Centrelink debt line.

This pause will not apply to debt related activity connected to serious non-compliance or fraud.

How to avoid a debt

To avoid a debt with us, let us know when there are any changes to either:

  • your income
  • other circumstances.

This way we can make sure you:

  • get the correct payment amount
  • don’t get overpaid.

An overpayment occurs when we pay you more money than you are eligible for.

If you do owe us money, you may be getting charged interest. Read about how to avoid interest charges.

If you change your address while you owe us money, it’s important you let us know.

Read more about change of circumstances.

How you’ll know if you owe us money

If you owe us money, we’ll let you know.

We’ll write to you and tell you:

  • why you owe the money
  • the amount you owe
  • when you need to pay the amount due
  • how you make the payment.

We may also call you to talk about your debt and how to pay it. If we can’t reach you on the phone, we may leave a message. Sometimes we use SMS to contact you about your debt. We use SMS as a reminder for your debt payments or to ask you to call us back.

If we ask you to call us back, it'll be on one of these phone lines:

These numbers are genuine and aren't a scam. Learn more about how to identify scams and stay safe.

How to pay us back

You can pay back your Centrelink debts in full or set up a payment arrangement online.

Read our online guides on how to pay back your debt using either your:

Contact the Centrelink debt line if you can’t either:

  • enter into an arrangement
  • pay us back by the due date.

We can talk with you about your options. If you're Indigenous, call the Indigenous Australians repayment of a Centrelink debt line.

If you no longer get a Centrelink payment

We can ask you to pay back your Centrelink debt at any time. Even if you no longer get an income support payment.

There are different ways you can pay back the money you owe. You can review the payment options in the following table:

Payment method Instructions
Direct debit You can set up automatic deductions from your bank account. You can do this through the Money you Owe online service in your Centrelink online account.

You can pay using BPAY by phone or internet banking. You can access this service through your bank.

You’ll need the Biller code 21915 and your BPAY reference number. We display these on:

  • your Account Payable letter
  • any other letters you get from us.

If your bank allows you to make a BPAY payment from your credit card, you can do so. However, your bank may charge you additional fees or interest. You should check this with your bank before making a payment.

Australia Post

You can pay in person at any Australia Post office or postal outlet. You can use one of these options:

  • cash
  • cheque
  • money order.

You’ll need a barcode to do this. You can find a barcode:

  • on your Account Payable letter
  • on any other letters you get from us that have payment options displayed
  • in the Money You Owe section of your Centrelink online account or Express Plus Centrelink mobile app.

If you don’t have a barcode on these documents we can give you a payment card. You can use a payment card to make regular payments. To request a card, call the Centrelink debt line. If you're Indigenous, call the Indigenous Australians repayment of a Centrelink debt line.

You can make a payment through Australia Post’s POST Billpay service. You’ll need the Billpay code 0802 and your POST Billpay reference number. We display these on:

  • your Account Payable letter
  • any other letters you get from us.

You can also pay over the phone by calling the Australia Post POST Billpay line on 131 816.

Credit card You can pay using your Visa or Mastercard. You can do this through the Money You Owe online service in your Centrelink online account. Before using your credit card, please check with your bank as there may be additional fees and charges.

If you get a Centrelink payment

If you don’t pay your debt by the due date we may deduct money from your Centrelink payment. We’ll use it to pay back your debt.

We may deduct money from your income support payment at our standard rate of 15%.

If you have an overpayment of child care fee assistance, we may deduct this from your ongoing Child Care Subsidy.

If you have other income, such as earnings from employment or investments, the amount we deduct can be higher. Different deduction rates apply to other payment types.

Previously, to recover family assistance debts, we could use family assistance end of year top-ups, lump sum and supplement payments. From 10 June 2019, we’re now using your FTB payments, including arrears to recover other Centrelink debts you may have. We can do this even if you have a payment arrangement in place. Read more about balancing your family assistance payments.

You can alter your debt repayments online. You can view online instructions using either your:

If you have questions about the amount we're withholding from your payment, call the Centrelink debt line.

If you're Indigenous and have questions, call the Indigenous Australians repayment of a Centrelink debt line.

Keep in mind if we agree to a lower deduction rate, it’ll just be for 3 months. After this time we'll review the rate based on your income and assets.

If your payment rate is going to change, we’ll send you a letter before this starts.

You may not be able to get an advance payment until you’ve repaid your debt. Read more about an advance payment.

When you don’t pay us back

You should pay your debt by the due date.

If you’re unable to pay your debt back in full, you need to enter into a debt repayment arrangement. You can do this by either:

If you don't pay your debt by the due date or enter into and meet your arrangement, we may:

  • deduct money from your income support or family assistance payments to pay the amount you owe
  • add an interest charge to your debt
  • refer your debt to an external collection agency
  • use your tax refund to repay your debt
  • recover the amount from your wages, other income, assets and money you may hold in a bank account
  • issue a Departure Prohibition Order to stop you from travelling overseas
  • refer your case to our solicitors for legal action.

Interest charges

We apply the same rate of interest as the current rate the Australian Taxation Office applies to tax debts. You can read more about interest charge rates on the ATO website.

We won’t charge you interest if any of the following apply:

  • you're currently getting a Centrelink payment
  • you've entered into an acceptable payment arrangement and continue to meet that arrangement
  • recovery of your debt has been paused.

Tax refund garnishee

If you owe us money, we may ask the ATO to help us get it back. We can ask them to withhold or give us some or all of your tax refund or available credit. If we do, we’ll send you a letter.

Read more about Tax refund garnishee and how we work with the ATO.

Departure Prohibition Orders

If you're not repaying your debt at a suitable rate, we may issue a Departure Prohibition Order. It'll stop you from leaving Australia until you either:

  • pay your debt in full
  • enter into an acceptable payment arrangement.

We don’t need a court order to stop you from leaving Australia.

External collection agents

We use external collection agents to follow up outstanding Centrelink debts. You may get an SMS, phone call or a letter from one of these agents:

  • Milton Graham, formerly known as Dun and Bradstreet
  • the Probe Operations
  • ARL Collect Pty Ltd (ARL).

If you get a letter from one of our collection agents, it’s important you contact them straight away. They’ll talk to you about your payment options.

Your personal information is secure and under protection while your account is with our collection agents. Your Centrelink debts won’t affect your credit rating.

If you have a complaint about the service you get from a collection agent, you can give us feedback. Read more about complaints and feedback.

How we recover debts for other Australian and New Zealand government departments

We may deduct money from your Centrelink payment to recover money you owe to other Australian Government departments.

This includes the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

We also recover money on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development, New Zealand. We’ll let you know if we’re going to recover any overpayments from your income support payment.

What to do if you’re considering a debt agreement or bankruptcy

A debt agreement is a way of managing your debt and avoiding bankruptcy.

A debt agreement is a legally binding agreement between you and your creditors, including us. If a debt agreement isn't able to resolve the debt, you may still enter into bankruptcy.

Entering into a debt agreement or bankruptcy doesn't remove all debts. But we won't recover some debts for the duration of your bankruptcy or agreement.

Read more about how to begin the process of a debt agreement on the Australian Financial Security Authority website.

Once you have a debt agreement, your administrator will contact us. We'll review your debt agreement and any outstanding Centrelink debts. Then we’ll take suitable action and write to you, to let you know the outcome.

When to ask for a review or appeal

If you don't agree with a decision we've made about the money you owe, let us know.

You have the right to ask for a review and appeal of the decision. You should ask us as soon as possible if you want to have a review. You may have to pay back the money while we review the decision.

How to access your information

You have a right to the information we have about you. This includes the details we use to make a decision about your debt. Read more about Personal Information Releases or contact the Centrelink Debt line.

Debt Statement

You can request your Statement of Debt through your Centrelink online account via myGov. Use the requesting a document online guide if you need help.

Your statement will show your debt information for up to 5 years, with all of the following:

  • when we raised your debt
  • your debt repayment and transaction history
  • any adjustments and changes to your debt
  • your debt number.

You can request a Statement of Debt for any 5 year date range going back to 1998. You can make more than one request.

Page last updated: 25 September 2020