Robyn Dunphy had high hopes for her tax return this year.
A former student of the now defunct Sage Institute of Fitness, Ms Dunphy’s journey to full-time paid employment came to a halt earlier this year when the college collapsed amid the VET-FEE HELP Scheme scandal.
Roughly 1600 students and 200 staff were left in limbo when the college closed in March, despite it earning $32 million over two years through the now-scrapped VET FEE-HELP loan scheme.
“I’d been unemployed while studying so I was expecting a nice refund. Instead the tax office says I owe $4568 of my Compulsory Higher Education Loan repayment … but for what? My study there is now useless and isn’t complete.”
Since the closure of Sage, best known for its brand ambassador Steve “Commando” Willis of Biggest Loser fame, former students have had the option of a fee re-credit or refund under a tuition assurance scheme.
The scheme is being managed by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training.
Other students who have been able to find alternative training providers have managed to transfer their study to continue.
But for students like Ms Dunphy, enrolled in a Diploma of Fitness Coaching that was exclusive to Sage, a refund is the only option.
“In some courses I know it’s been easy to swap students over. But it was the fitness course that was so unique they couldn’t find anyone to take us on,” Ms Dunphy said.
More than 1160 Sage students were enrolled in the Diploma of Fitness Coaching.
“So after being incorrectly advised I could continue studying, it seems I am better off applying through the assurance process to get the now-$20,000 credited by ACPET.”
But more than two months after registering for a refund, Ms Dunphy has received no confirmation, nor any news on the loan referral she has requested in the interim.
“The ATO has said they will continue to seek repayment until they are told otherwise by the department. We have been given no time frames, and when you speak to the ATO they tell you to speak with the department, and the department tells you to speak to the ATO.”
This week Ms Dunphy was advised not to submit her tax return by staff at the Department of Education and Training and the Commonwealth Ombudsman, until she had received confirmation about her fee remittance.
She has now paid an additional $8000 to undertake a Recognition of Prior Learning course.
In the first communication from ACPET since May, Sage students received a mass email on Thursday, two days after Fairfax Media made initial enquiries with the Department and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
“We are continuing to advocate on your behalf to ensure that this re-credit/refund is processed. What we do need to let you know is that this will take some time,” the email said.
“We understand how frustrating this is and we value your forbearance as we work through this process. When you get a call from us, we can talk through this more with you.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Training said it would work closely with the ATO “to ensure the student debts are removed from their records … as re-credits occur.”
He said the department was not aware of Sage students being advised to delay submitting their tax returns, describing the advice as “not correct.”
The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman said it did not comment on “approaches to the office”.
A hearing in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal last year heard Sage spent $6 million marketing its Diploma of Fitness Coaching Course.