The family of a man who died under a mountain of debt are outraged at the way he was pursued for child support payments.
Paul Anthony Jenkins, 39, killed himself in Geelong last Tuesday, shortly after receiving a bill for more than A$41,000 ($53,300). The money was to help support his daughter, 17, who lives in Wellington with his former partner.
The Inland Revenue Department had asked the Australian Child Support Services Agency to chase the debt because Jenkins had moved across the Tasman.
His father, Tony Jenkins, said Paul maintained contact with his daughter despite a tense relationship with her mother. The teen watched her father's funeral on the internet this week.
"It was a beautiful funeral," Tony said. "They did a haka to take the evil spirits away from the coffin, played the guitar, sang some songs. It was quite overwhelming, the chapel was full, it holds 130 people and it was overflowing."
Supporting a new baby and his current partner's three children on just $630 a week, Paul had fallen behind in his payments.
Heavy fees and interest had been added before deductions from his bank account were forced - $98 was taken every couple of days.
"He could not afford it. They keep on adding interest all the time and he wasn't getting anywhere. It was going to take all his life to pay off," Tony said. "On top of that, he was trying to look after his new baby and the three other kids. He could never, ever get his head above water. Paul didn't know which way to turn. He was at the end of his tether."
The last bill Paul received said he owed A$41,264.47 and A$635 was due immediately. It also showed seven instalments of A$98.32 had been deducted from his wages during two weeks in March, including four on one day.
The letter did not explain why so many deductions were taken.
"He had called me that day, upset and saying he needed money for his car.
"I gave him $1000. I wish I had known about this previously. I would have talked to these people [at Child Support Services] myself."
The coroner was yet to determine the cause of Paul's death.
The death has raised concerns among community advocates, who told the Herald on Sunday there had been similar cases.
Mangere Budgeting Services chief executive Darryl Evans said the language used in IRD letters and bills made people feel threatened and hopeless. He said one client thought she would go to jail when she opened an overdue bill.
"I've always thought the language the IRD use is extremely strong. They bombard you with letters, two or three a week. It's frightening for people."
A spokeswoman for Australian Child Support Services said there were payment options for those who asked.
"It's important parents are aware of the support services available and seek help as early as possible.
"If a customer is clearly distressed or needs urgent assistance, our staff are trained to recognise this and connect them with an appropriate counselling or support service.
"I express my sympathy towards the family, circumstances such as these are a tragedy for all concerned."
Inland Revenue spokesman David Miller said significant penalty write-offs were available if a parent arranged a payment plan.
- Celeste Gorrell Anstiss
IRD needs reining in
Rodney Hide: "The IRD's sole job is to gather money for the Government. It does so by threatening and bullying people.
"Our Parliament backs IRD through the law and turns a deaf ear to complaints that tax collectors are too aggressive.
"There are no proper checks and balances on IRD's treatment of people who, for whatever reason, have fallen behind in payments or, indeed, who dispute that they have been fairly and properly assessed.
"In 1996, air conditioning technician Ian Mutton committed suicide after being pursued by the IRD over debt that started from a missed $84 tax payment. Mutton's 13-year-old son killed himself a year later.
"Our Parliament found a 'culture of fear and punishment' at IRD and ordered a clean-up. IRD seems to have slipped back to its old ways.
"We have had another tragedy. And behind this tragedy are thousands of cases of injustice and poor treatment.
"It's time again for our elected representatives to inquire into IRD's heavy-handedness."
* Mental Health Services: 0508 625 662
* Youthline: 0800 376 633, text 234, email firstname.lastname@example.org
* Lifeline: 0800 543 354
* The Lowdown: text 5626, email email@example.com
* Depression helpline: 0800 111 75