‘We all got a big shock’: 100-year-old Australian war veteran’s family furious at $11,000 pension debt letter

This story by Jonathan Barrett first appeared in The Guardian on 17th December 2023

Jim Kendall still likes to play darts.

It doesn’t matter much where the darts land; the game is a precursor to lunch and a point of conversation around the dining table the 100-year-old war veteran shares with other residents at a Melbourne retirement village.

But those routines have been disrupted in recent weeks after the Department of Veterans’ Affairs sent the second world war veteran a letter demanding he pay thousands of dollars due to alleged pension overpayments.

Kendall, who served in the navy during the war, received a letter last month advising him that “due to an increase to the amount held in your bank accounts” they had concluded that he owed $11,201.93. There was little further detail but the letter said the money was to be repaid in 28 days.

Kendall’s local member, the independent MP Zoe Daniel, says her office is working with the department to ensure “fairness and respect”.

“By anyone’s standards, it’s a bit rough to send a letter out of the blue to a 100-year-old about a claim that dates back to 2016,” Daniel says. “The robodebt experience should have been a reminder to handle these kinds of matters with care.”

Those who recently received payment demands from government departments and agencies say the lack of detail and historical nature of the alleged debts make them almost impossible to challenge.

Most of the amounts predate the five-year retention period taxpayers are required to keep records, with some debts so old that people are trying to locate long forgotten chequebooks and payment receipts.

Kendall’s family and friends say the department should lift this burden from him so that he can enjoy his routines, which include a daily 10am café visit, as well as his passions.

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