Language warning. Although the dysfunction of how Australia’s social security system is run should offend you more, TBH.
As I mentioned at the end of my last post, in my sixth week of study I have finally gone onto Austudy. Being a full-time student is an “approved activity” means I am immediately eligible for exemption. I don’t have to wait for thirteen weeks for this to take effect, like I do when moving away from a income managed area. I was told that the income managed money goes straight into your account when you go off income management.
So. On Monday morning I get a call from my job service provider. He says, “I can see on our system that you’ve gone onto Austudy. Would you like to continue on our program on a voluntary basis or would you like us to exit you?” I chose the latter option.
After I got off the phone, I went onto my Centrelink account online. I saw that, yes, they were paying me a different amount, plus a start of semester bonus amount of money. But the boxes that say “income management” “basics card” had vanished. Centrelink didn’t send me an online letter to tell me what was going on. So from my perspective, over $1000 of income managed money had just disappeared. That’s not very good money management, Centrelink! I had gone from having very limited control over how I spent that money, to literally no control at all. And no notification as to what the fuck was going on. They hadn’t even told me that my payment had changed.
On Wednesday morning I woke up in the foulest mood ever. I normally go to yoga before my 10am class, but I couldn’t manage it. Normally I wait until I’m really strong before facing Centrelink, but on this occasion, I thought, “How much worse can I feel?” so I rang the income management line.
When I explained to the first woman I spoke to that my money had disappeared without notification, she was very shocked and empathetic. She wasn’t authorised to do anything about it, though, so she had to put me onto someone else. She told me that she would write what I had told her on my notes, so I wouldn’t have to repeat it.
Despite this, the next lady I spoke to asked me why I was calling, so I had to repeat myself anyway. Second lady was not empathetic at all. In fact, she seemed annoyed that I was calling in the first place. “Your payment only changed on Monday 25th,” she informed me in a snippy voice. “No-one has had a chance to run a dispersal yet. You will be getting a letter from Centrelink within 14 days.” She seemed to have no comprehension that there was anything wrong with over $1000 of my own money disappearing from my radar.
“The basics card and income management icons have disappeared from my online Centrelink account,” I explained to her.
“Well, yes, that’s because you’re not on income management,” she said in a derr-brain, you-stupid-girl voice.
“When am I going to get that money?” I asked.
“I can try to put through a dispersal for you this afternoon,” she said. “And would you like me to transfer the basics card money into your income management account?”
“Yes please. Do you have information there on my basics card spending?” I asked.
“Well can you tell me about how much money has been spent on it in the last couple of months?”
“Haven’t you been using it?”
“No, my parents have. Because it’s only good for Coles and Woollies here, and I don’t shop in those place,” I said, my bad mood seeping through. In that moment I decided that the bad mood strategy for Centrelink is somewhat faulty. “I want to know how much money they have spent so I know how much they need to give me.”
“I could list it for you, or I could put in an order for you to receive a basics card statement,” she said. I chose the latter.
Then the weird part happened. The lady said, “I have to go now, we’ve been notified there is an electric storm and we have to stop using the phones.”
“Okay, but are you going to put through that money for me?”
“Yes, I’ll try, gotta go bye.”
Later that day I checked my Centrelink account and it told me my next payment would be Thursday 28th August. I calculated it was half the amount of the income management lump sum.
Because apparently Centrelink doesn’t trust me to spend large sums of MY OWN MONEY.
The good news is I can pay rent for another month or two. And income management will soon be a distant nightmare. For me, at least.
1. I am serious. This is actually the language Centrelink uses.
2. This is the job service provider Centrelink assigned me to when I moved to Canberra. My first appointment with them lasted thirty seconds, not including the three minutes I waited to be seen. The woman said, “So you’re studying?” I said “Yep” and she said, “Well you are not required to be part of our program, it’s only a volunteer basis.” I said, “Well I’m not looking for a job.” And she said, “Well, see you, good luck with your study!”
Two weeks later when I still hadn’t been transferred onto Austudy, the man from the agency rang me up, confirmed I was studying, and hung up again. Such a farce.