Cy­clone vic­tim chased for $177

Dis­as­ter pay­ments ‘a dog’s breakfast’ Costi­gan says

Whitsunday Times - - NEWS - Peter Carruthers Peter.Carruthers@ news­re­gional­me­dia.com.au

BOB Eden sur­vived Cy­clone Deb­bie with his two dogs Barn­aby and Char­lie and his sense of hu­mour in­tact. But only just.

Last week Mr Eden re­ceived a let­ter from the De­part­ment of Com­mu­ni­ties, Child Safety and Dis­abil­i­ties ask­ing him to re­pay $177.07 he was “in­el­i­gi­ble” to re­ceive af­ter he claimed the Im­me­di­ate Hard­ship As­sis­tance and Es­sen­tial Ser­vices Hard­ship As­sis­tance Grants.

Mr Eden man­aged to get off his boat just be­fore the cy­clone hit and was sleep­ing on a friend’s couch and in his car un­til ar­riv­ing at the Ju­bilee Pocket PCYC cy­clone re­cov­ery cen­tre.

“I sat down with them and told them my story and they said ‘you are en­ti­tled to this, this and this. Sit down there we will take your de­tails and we will fill out the forms’,” he said.

“All I did was to sup­ply in­for­ma­tion un­der their guid­ance as to what I was en­ti­tled to.”

Mr Eden left the re­cov­ery cen­tre with a plas­tic card to which $180 had been cred­ited.

How­ever the 65-year-old said it was useless as no ATMs were work­ing be­cause the en­tire Whit­sun­days was with­out power.

“(So) the next day I phoned in, spoke to the lady and the next day the money was in my ac­count,” he said.

Nonethe­less in the re­cent let­ter from the de­part­ment, signed by chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Arthur O’Brien, Mr Eden was given 14 days to re­turn the money and “no other le­gal ac­tion will be taken”.

Mr Eden con­tacted Mem­ber for Whit­sun­day Ja­son Costi­gan, who said from the very be­gin­ning dis­as­ter pay­ments had been man­aged badly.

“We have got peo­ple with un­der-pay­ments, over­pay­ments, no pay­ments, late pay­ments – it has been a dog’s breakfast,” Mr Costi­gan said.

The let­ter from the de­part­ment told Mr Eden he may have “in­ad­ver­tently ap­plied for more than one pay­ment”.

But he is con­vinced he has not been paid the same grant twice.

“I have checked my ac­count and that is the only monies that have come from the gov­ern­ment around that time frame. How could I have in­ad­ver­tently ap­plied for (it)?” he asked.

Mr Costi­gan said Cy­clone Deb­bie was the first nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in which elec­tronic dis­as­ter pay­ments were made.

“They never tested that pro­ce­dure... It was go­ing to be a cock up from the get go,” he said.

A spokesper­son for the de­part­ment said of the more than 72,800 pay­ments dis­trib­uted across all forms of as­sis­tance pro­vided af­ter Cy­clone Deb­bie - which to­talled more than $32 mil­lion - only 210 let­ters, or 0.003% of claims, had been sent out seek­ing re­im­burse­ment for over­pay­ments.

“Over­pay­ments that may have been caused by sys­tem or pro­cess­ing er­rors and over­pay­ments deemed of a value that there is no cost ben­e­fit in at­tempt­ing to re­cover, will not be re­cov­ered,“the spokesper­son said.

Mr Eden mean­while, said he would be re­fus­ing to pay the money de­manded in his case back to the State Gov­ern­ment.

PHOTO: PETER CARRUTHERS

FAULTY AC­COUNTS: Mem­ber for Whit­sun­day Ja­son Costi­gan with Bob Eden and his dogs Barn­aby and Char­lie.

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