Centrelink, as the Australian Federal Government agency which administers a range of services and programs that fall under the banner of "social services" has a nightmare on its hands trying to make them all work together, and deal with a population of clients who are more likely than most of the population to be stressed, frayed, frazzled, and with various medical, psychiatric and drug-related issues.
But that doesn't excuse the more ludicrous and blatantly unfair aspects of Centrelink policies and processes. And if they get handed down from the Government Departments responsible for the payments - DEEWR, say - I don't care. I'm still going to blame Centrelink.
This, then, is a nascent list of the Things That Are Wrong:
- If you earn money while on a Centrelink payment, you lose a portion of that payment. Fair enough - this is intended to be a needs-based system. If your partner earns money, you lose payment, which is fair enough if you live together and share expenses. The problem is that while you are told exactly, to the cent, what you're allowed to earn, and how much you lose, across several thresholds, they don't publish the same information on your partner's income. Nada. You don't know how much they're allowed to earn before you start losing money, and you don't know how fast it happens. The only justification I can think is that they're concerned that people may turn down work because it will impact upon their partner's payment which is, of course, exactly what happens anyway.
- If you receive Ausstudy, which allows you to complete further schooling without having to work to support yourself at the same time (theoretically - just try it) you don't automatically qualify for a Health Care Card. WTF? An HCC gives you a range of discounts on things like public transport. So does a Student Card, okay. But that's hardly an excuse. An HCC gives you very cheap prescription drugs. A Student Card doesn't. Let's look at some of the conditions that don't incapacitate you from studying, aren't uncommon among younger people, and which are relieved or controlled by prescription medications: Diabetes. Asthma. Chronic pain (resulting from accidents, arthritis - quite possible while young, etc.) Various psychiatric conditions. Once-off bacterial or yeast infections. My partner finds that the contraceptive pill controls migraines which would otherwise cripple her a couple of times a month. If you have to pay $16 (minimum!) rather than ~$4 per script, it starts to add up a bit.
- Ausstudy recipients have only been eligible for rent assistance for about a year now. I'm not giving them credit for fixing that - it wasn't bloody good enough. Students sometimes have to live away from home due to distance (there's an extra allowance - which is pitiful) or due to family problems. I knew a girl who made social workers cry every time she had to justify her living-away-from-home status. She shouldn't have needed to.
- If you are on a Disability Support Pension, or are eligible for one but need to (re)prove it through medical reports, you will probably need to make several medical appointments in order to have the relevant professionals fill out the relevant paperwork. Some of this paperwork (yes, I've handled it during a previous life) advises you that you may, due to the time necessary (for a form), need to make a double appointment, and that this, regretably, cannot be claimed on Medicare. Not. Bloody. Good. Enough.
- You are expected to declare income earned up to the day you declare it, each fortnight. How the hell am I supposed to know? Unless, and sometimes not even then, you are on a cash-in-hand job or a regular but low-paying job and have already received your first pay-check, you don't. My partner works strange agency nursing hours and, although she has the pay rates for each time of the day and week, we can never work out exactly what she earns. I have just started a job with three different components, paid at different rates, dependent upon the time of day or week. Can I work it out? Can I hell! (And repeated requests to pay-roll have not resulted in an email containing details of just what those pay rates actually are, but that's a separate whinge).
- The other part of this is that while Centrelink pays you the evening of the day you put your form in, no other organisation that doesn't pay by cash, does. In my case, I have to wait 10 whole freaking days from the end of my pay period, to receiving income. Which means that I can, theoretically, be penalised on my Centrelink payment two weeks before I receive the income I just got penalised for. This does not bode well for things like, ooh, I don't know, rent.
- You declare income pre-tax. All of which, including the part you don't get because the government takes it, affects your Centrelink income. How is that fair? How does that encourage honesty?
- For some payments, you have to submit fortnightly forms in person. Which means travel, which is an expense that is most emphatically not directly related to job searching, and is also time out of your day (considerable amounts, when travel is added to the time spent standing in line) where you are not searching for jobs. Or, whatever.
- If you sign a contract for a permanent, full-time job that pays several thousand a week but which, unfortunately, doesn't start for four weeks and you won't get your first pay for another two weeks after that, which means six weeks from now... Centrelink can't cope. You need to live, so you need money, so you need the Centrelink income. But, on Newstart, you need to look for (doesn't necessarily mean apply for, which is something) ten jobs per fortnight. Which can theoretically mean that you have to turn down interviews and waste hundreds of hours because "Well, I've actually got a job, I just have to go through these hoops so that I don't get evicted and starve to death before it starts." There needs to be something in place here. In my case, I couldn't get paid for the shifts I did before Christmas because the HR department were on holiday and didn't create a payroll identity for me, so I lost Centrelink payment for income declared then, and that was a fortnight ago and I won't actually receive the money I worked for until this time next week!
- Each office has different arrangements for whether they take appointments pre-booked or walk-in for assessment interviews, which does not help.
Further suggestions welcomed.