Welfare recipient blasts Centrelink for disconnected calls

| 10.04,20. 06:52 PM |

Welfare recipient blasts Centrelink for disconnected calls

Lines outside of Centrelink offices are inaccessible to many. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Many Australians who are relying on Centrelink welfare payments to keep themselves and their families afloat are being met with technical issues by the government department.
While Services Australia has finalised more than 200,000 welfare claims over the past few weeks for the Government's JobSeeker payment plan (formerly known as Newstart), many are finding their registrations met with silence or — even more aggravating — disconnected phone calls.
Dean Fletcher is one such Australian who had registered to receive the welfare payments and been met time and again with technical glitches.
"Between the queues outside of Centrelink and the MyGov website constantly crashing, it's led to me and many others that I know having to try to access the system in the middle of the night. I'll have to be up at 1am to process anything," he said.
"But when I need to call Centrelink, I'll be met with an automated message, be asked to put in my information, and then it turns around and says 'all the lines are busy' and just cuts out.
"And that happened over and over and over. You can start calling at 10am and still be calling at 2pm or 3pm and it's still doing the same thing."
And while the system has recently been flooded with applications from those who have lost their income due to the COVID-19 crisis, this is not a new issue for the department.
"There have been times where I've called 40 plus times in a day and it just won't answer. And this is something that was happening before the coronavirus happened as well. It's been constant for almost as long as I've been on Newstart," Dean said.
And as queues outside Centrelink offices are inaccessible for many, as well as being a contradiction of social distancing measures, the phone lines are often people's only option.
"Generally it's just a matter of persistence. There was one week where I missed the window to report, and if you miss that you have no credit. But the calls would keep cutting out two and a half to three minutes after you put in your information," Dean said.
"That happened four days in a row, meaning I was unable to pay rent or afford food. I eventually had to get a friend to drop me at the Centrelink office which would have been a 40 minute walk otherwise. I waited for two hours and reported, and had to get my friend to come back and pick me up to drive me home."
And Dean concedes that while his struggles are an additional financial burden, he is able-bodied, and has no significant barriers to leaving his house or accessing the Centrelink offices if necessary.
Many Australians living with disabilities or other barriers to interacting with Centrelink aren't so lucky.
Jeremy Poxon of the Australian Unemployed Workers Union claims he has been met with many workers who have encountered the same issues as Dean.
"The AUWU has been fielding many distressed calls and messages from people who can't get through to Centrelink, are experiencing call drop-outs, or can't access their myGov account or Centrelink app," he said.
"Sadly, administrative and technology failures continue to deny and delay people's access to the information and support they need to survive.
"These constant issues and failures mean that unemployed workers never feel truly secure in this system; instead, many of the people we talk to say they're left in a constant state of anxiety, uncertainty, and stress."
And it isn't just the phone lines causing continued issues for many welfare recipients. The MyGov website, which has been met with anger and frustration by welfare recipients in the past, also poses an unexpected threat.
"MyGov is linked to a mobile phone number, when I had to change my number earlier this year I couldn't login because it requires a new account to be created," Dean explained.
"The process of linking Centrelink to a new MyGov account was so complicated I wound up having to keep my old number on a spare broken phone just to be able to report every fortnight.
"So I can't imagine what someone fleeing DV or a stalker would have to go through on top of everything else in their life."
To help deal with the spike in registrations, the JobSeeker line is now being staffed from 8am to 8pm on business days, and will also be open on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday between 9am and 5pm.
If you need to apply for for JobSeeker payments, you can go online here and submit your application to make a claim.


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