opinion

A single mother's plea: 'Centrelink, stop ruining my life.'

Ground hog day- my heart sinks as that same repetitive Centrelink classical hold music plays over and over again. My liver rages- another Centrelink debacle I just don’t have time for. Same old mistakes, same old music and more stress for me. They haven’t paid my rent assistance for 2 months and my rent is 75 per cent of my income.

They stopped paying it to me because I didn’t realise I’d been sent an online random letter saying I needed to confirm my details were the same as they had always been. After numerous attempts phoning up I finally got onto somebody who told me I would have to upload a form and start the process of rent assistance all over again. My landlord lives overseas so there was scanning of documents and signing of forms. When I went to upload the form a few days later it wouldn’t upload. More endless waiting on the phone. Apparently their system was experiencing problems and so I wouldn’t be able to upload my form for 24 hours.

Watch: Kochie on ways to organise and save your money. Post continues after video…

I’ve since called up several times and I always get onto a polite confused person who thinks I’ve never had rent assistance before and I waste lots of time trying to explain that no I have had it, and should still be getting it, but I’m not, and I uploaded a form. Every time they can’t work it out and I’m told they are putting me through to someone who will sort it out and they promise this time somebody will pick up the phone but they don’t.

I hold on until I have to race to the childcare to pick up my daughter and hang up. Well, I’ve been on hold for 2 hours so nobody can say I was impatient.

When I’ve called the complaints line nobody picks up at all. A friend tells me at least it’s not 2010 when they only had 100 staff nationally to take all Centrelink’s calls. It’s supposed to be better now. But all over Australia every minute of the day people without voices are suffering from Centrelink complications and fumbling.

I put the rent on the credit card and hold back the tears. I get charged a big fee for using my credit card in this way.

I remember when they underpaid my maternity payment following the birth of my daughter and I lost a few weeks of pay. They told me that while it was their mistake; there was no policy in place to deal with the problem, so I’d have to take them to court to sort it out.

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Even though the average Australian income is between $75,000 – $80,000 a year, Centrelink starts to strip away benefits when you earn around $50,000, including the pensioner concession card. Once your child is over 8, you’re on your own. There’s no recognition that a person’s capacity to work might be limited by being a single parent.

I truly believe that single parents earning less than $70,000 a year should be able to get concessions on most things that relate to their children: from dental to ballet classes. If we want to avoid becoming a society of haves and have-nots, this is a good place to start.

'I always get onto a polite confused person who thinks I’ve never had rent assistance before.' Image via iStock.

Centrelink ought to be doing everything in its power to ensure we all have equal opportunity, that's why they are there. This includes working with the private sector to provide discounts and concessions to low income households.

A friend of mine has a nine year old child and found her full time job which required her to work back several nights a week was just too much. She left this job for a much lower paying job. Her child requires parental attention that a childless person is not constrained by; particularly because he is partially deaf, and so this limits her work choices. But it seems as though this is never really discussed or acknowledged. She can’t believe that just because her boy turned 9, she’s entitled to pretty much nothing from the government despite having to provide for him on a low income.

Some rebates are so complicated to obtain, I know a lot of parents just don’t bother. For things like sports camps and some preschools, you have to submit a 10 page form every single time you give Centrelink a receipt with all the same details. Everybody I know agrees that the system is designed not to give, particularly to families who are working. There seems to be this idea in our country that if you’re working, you’re just fine.

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When will we have a government that will address the system that most Australians have complaints about? A quick internet search will show you just how many people are despairing over Centrelink. There are Facebook pages dedicated to hating Centrelink.

'I shudder to think how an elderly person who does not grasp technology might cope with Centrelink.' Image via iStock.

One woman writes that “Centrelink currently withholds entitlements from people who need and deserve them. Some of this is due to errors when applying policy, inadequate communication with consumers and then there is the assumption on their behalf that people are all out to rip of the system if they can; which is simply not true.”

There does seem to be this weird idea that we all have endless amounts of time to figure Centrelink out. Show me a low income working parent that has any time. I shudder to think how an elderly person who does not grasp technology might cope with Centrelink.

Apparently there is a service Centrelink offer you where you can get cheap second hand computers for your children. I have never been told about this by Centrelink. When I Google it I get nothing.

I notice on the online letter Centrelink sent me today that they are deducting $60 a fortnight for a ‘loan’. I don’t even know what the loan is for. When I can find the energy I will call them up and ask.

The people who answer the phone might be polite but unfortunately that doesn’t make it a good system. I don’t want to feel grim and desperate, it's like being in a slow-motion car crash. I want to feel supported. I work hard and I want to thrive for my children. I don't like the idea of barely surviving. Do you think you can make that possible Centrelink?

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