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Bitch Better Have My Money

19 August 2015

The trope depicting uni students as broke and living on a shoestring budget is a commonly used one – and eerily accurate, by many accounts. Cheap instant ramen, signing up for all sorts of research studies that pay, and working part-time while going through school just to have a little bit more spending money all come to mind. Chances are, most university students would have experienced something like this at one point or another.

It doesn’t help that Centrelink, a huge source of financial support for many Australian tertiary students, has hit students with huge delays and general ineffective operations. Payments can go up to A$559 per fortnight for recipients of Youth Allowance – depending on the profile of the youth – which is an invaluable sum of money for many. However, delayed payments have left many students helpless and struggling with their finances.

Sydney Morning Herald claims that students face the possibility of dropping out of school due to delayed payments, meaning many students simply don’t have the ability to pay because of Centrelink’s inefficiency.

While ordinary waiting periods for other allowances are stated clearly on Centrelink’s website, information for Youth Allowance is scarce. Centrelink’s Facebook page for students, Student Update, provides no information on waiting periods, and is brimming with enquiries and complaints from students who have been waiting for their payments for months. Backlogs of applications for Youth Allowance date back at least three months.

Jacob Crane, a University of Melbourne student, faced a delay of at least two months when he initially applied for Youth Allowance. While the delay was troubling, he was working at that time and had saved up a small amount of money, which helped him tide over until he received his payment.

Centrelink’s delays haven’t been as kind on others. Skye Almond is a single parent of four, whose family has been having troubles making ends meet after the initial three-week wait for her son, Robbie’s, application turned into three months.

Robbie, a university student studying in Cairns, applied for Youth Allowance from Centrelink on 19 February, and was told to wait for three weeks while the Family Tax payment he was receiving was cut off immediately.

Skye said after the first three weeks had passed, multiple queries to Centrelink were met with different and increasingly frustrating answers – to wait an extra three weeks, then another 42 days, to give an extra four to five weeks wait, before finally being told that it would be done by 4 May.

While Robbie is in university, two younger siblings are in high school and the youngest just enrolled in kindergarten. Having to pay for bills, as well as daily and university expenses with only one income is becoming a big problem. Skye has had to take out a loan to help pay for daily expenses and is in the process of getting another loan. Robbie, too, has had to make sacrifices – the family cancelled a tutor they hired because they cannot afford it.

Responses by Centrelink on their Student Update Facebook page do not give any estimated dates for payments. Instead, generic replies such as “student claim processing times can vary for a number of reasons, such as the time of year, volumes of claims and the complexity of the claim” are fobbed off on the students, which barely answer questions asked in the first place.

Although Centrelink emphasises that people facing financial hardship can seek help from them while waiting for their payments, Skye said she was told that unless they are homeless, their circumstances do not qualify for hardship.

Besides delayed payments, Centrelink also has a reputation for inefficient practices. Student Hamish Pleggemars, who had just returned to Australia from USA, said getting his payment was a nightmare. A visit to the Centrelink office to submit an application turned into six visits in total, all because staff neglected to tell him what documents they require from him, with each visit inevitably seeing him returning with documents they missed the previous time. The only reason why his payments were not delayed is the fact that he required urgent assistance.

With thousands of claims to process, it is understandable that waiting time for these payments would take slightly longer, but what infuriates these applicants is that they are left to wonder and stress over when their payment will finally arrive.

However, since putting forward a complaint to the Ombudsman recently, Skye wants other struggling students and families to know that it is well worth doing. Robbie finally received his Youth Allowance payment on 15 May.

“They were very quick at acknowledging the complaint and called to inform us that [they] had retrieved Robbie’s claim from the pile and it was to be processed immediately.”


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