WIMMERA Disability Support Pension recipients could face inflated child support debts this year because of incorrect tax returns.
Victoria Legal Aid’s Child Support Legal Service has found many people receiving the pension mistakenly included their pension income on their tax return.
Service manager Kathleen Ng said this could lead to unexpected and incorrect child support debts when the Australian Tax Office passed on the person’s details to the Department of Human Services.
The Wimmera has far greater numbers of support pension recipients than other areas of the state.
The statewide average is 66 recipients for every 1000 people, however the rates are close to 130 per 1000 in Northern Grampians and Yarriambiack municipalities.
Hindmarsh has a rate of 102.6, while Horsham Rural City’s is 78.9.
Ms Ng said many people receiving the pension were already vulnerable and disadvantaged, making a sudden debt even harder to deal with.
She said many might not realise they had made a mistake.
“Clients who have approached us have been very distressed, and we expect there are people out there who haven’t got in touch,” she said.
“Any debt can be significant when you’re on a fixed income like the pension.
“If you don’t address it, the debt can be automatically deducted from your payments and late payment penalties imposed.
“It’s usually quite easy to correct with the tax office, but the child support consequences are more complicated to unwind.”
Ms Ng said Victoria Legal Aid’s child support lawyers could help by working through the issue with the recipient and the department.
She said the group had been able to reduce debts for some clients.
Ms Ng said the department could not use amended tax incomes to retrospectively reduce an incorrect high child support amount.
“People who have made this mistake have to formally apply to child support for a waiver,” she said.
“It can take time to apply and receive a decision. We can support recipients through this.”
Ms Ng said people could request help at legalaid.vic.gov.au or by calling 1300 792 387.
She said Victoria Legal Aid had flagged the problem with the department.