Okay so my followers aren’t all from Australia but I think the subject of this post is something that is experienced worldwide, so y’all will probably be able to empathise with me here. You see, in Australia, our social welfare “service” (and I use the term very loosely) is called Centrelink, as it combines our universal healthcare system, tax department, disability services and unemployment benefits all in one building. You would think this would make easier and more streamlined, enabling people (both the public and the people who supposedly work FOR us) to get things done.
Bear with me as I wipe the tears of laughter (and compounding frustration) from my eyes.
My situation is that I’ve been on Austudy, a payment for full time students, for three and a half years while I complete my degree in professional and creative writing/literary studies. Well, as late as the 18th of June I was informed, via message on the government website, that Austudy only allows for three and a half years, not four, which I was fine with; no hassle. I knew I’d have to claim the unemployment benefit eventually, even as I was still studying. The problem is, they then inform me, just over two weeks ago, that I have exactly 12 days to apply for Newstart before my Austudy is cancelled or I’d endure a wait of 14 days (minimum) to have my claim processed, without pay. So I submit my claim online, making sure they had all the documents they needed, ID etc, even though they had all that on their files already. But apparently they need it again. I had to book a phone appointment so they could contact me and process the claim then and there, so I organised for them to call me on Wednesday 20 June, knowing full well I’d be home and able to sit by the phone. Still with me?
Well Wednesday arrives and I’m sitting in bed, reading, phone by my side, fully charged, waiting for their call, at 11am.
What do you think happened, dear readers?
Nothing. No call whatsoever, for the entire hour (11am-12pm) that was scheduled to contact me in. A disturbingly persistent telemarketer called me at 11.11am, but I quickly hung up on them, and prayed that Centrelink hadn’t chosen THAT EXACT MOMENT to call me. Well, if they did there was no evidence on my phone log, no message left on my voicemail. Nothing but an SMS early the next morning informing me that my claim had been rejected and that more details were available online.
Mad as a cut snake, I got online and apparently the reason my claim had been rejected was that I hadn’t “attended” a phone interview on Wednesday 20 June.
So I march into their local office, demanding an explanation. They were apologetic, as much as a bunch of sociopathic robots are able, and organised for me to speak to someone then and there. The girl I spoke to was youngish and very accommodating, and promised to have it all sorted out. To her credit, she DID line up an interview with a job agency of my choice, for the following Monday morning, and organised a part-payment of my final Austudy – $415, and the rest would be in my bank on Monday at the latest. Well you can pretty much guess the rest, can’t you? Having spent the 415 on rent, direct debits of bills etc, etc, I had next to nothing left. So I go back into Centrelink after my job agency appointment and complain. The lady there tells me I wasn’t actually entitled to the rest of my Austudy because I was paid up to the 30th of June, and when checking my claim, not only informs me that she can’t find it on their system, but that someone DID try to call me on the 20th of June, not once, but THREE TIMES. Of course I debated this, telling her in no uncertain terms that I was there (barely resisting the impulse to add “have you gone mental?”) but when I checked my phone log, I’d accidentally deleted any record of calls on the 20th so I couldn’t actually prove that they didn’t call me. I could have cried, right there. It was my word against theirs, and these are people who have their souls ripped out when they sign on the dotted line to work for the government. She all but accused me of lying, right there, and she probably would have if my son hadn’t been sitting right beside me. He’s a biggish boy, so I don’t think she fancied arguing the point with him, so changed the subject rather quickly, stating that there was no evidence that my claim even existed apart from the referral to a job agency and of course those mystical phone calls from another dimension (my words, not hers) and that I would have to start my claim ALL OVER AGAIN.
It is not overstating things to say that by this point, I was seriously considering going postal. I had done everything I was supposed to do. Provided them with all the documentation they needed, jumped through all the hoops only to be told I have to go back to the end of the line and wait a minimum of 14 days to receive any more help. I couldn’t even receive an emergency payment for hardship because guess what? I was between payments and so was regarded as not receiving any benefits whatsoever. To elaborate: i was dead broke, but to receive any kind of financial help in the interim, I had to be receiving a payment.
It’s enough to do your head in. It reminded me of what I’ve heard of trying to get a loan at a bank – they won’t actually give you any money unless you can prove you don’t really need it. or that you can pay it back with interest.
So I dutifully went home, resubmitted my claim, booked ANOTHER phone interview for 11am the next morning (Tues 26th) and waited. Thankfully, someone did call me, got it all sorted and I then had to wait a minimum of 14 days FROM THE 26th, which would bring it up to yesterday (10th July) as the estimated date my claim would be processed. But the estimated date given online is today, which I’m taking to mean 14 days from the day after my phone interview. So to recap, it takes a minimum 14 days to make a few keystrokes on a computer, perhaps photocopy and scan some forms, review the details of a claim, make a couple of phone calls to make sure this person is who they say they are, and stamp it “approved”. Something I could do in the space of an afternoon, or less. I know this because I’ve finished 2000 word essays in less time.
At this rate, I’ll be in Swanston Centre (local loony bin), learning how to retie my shoelaces by mid next week.
Catch you on the flipside.