Dealing with Centrelink for the first time

21 08 2020

Unlike the US, Australia doesn’t have a Social Security Number system where you’re allocated a number early in life (at birth? on turning 18?). Instead, we get a Medicare card, but that’s not the same as the number you need for Centrelink (which is a federal government department looks after all sorts of social security programs for Australian citizens). We’ve been fortunate to never need any services provided by Centrelink, but my husband recently turned an age where he was eligible for a health card that dramatically reduces the cost of doctors’ visits, prescription medicine, and has added state and local government benefits (such as reduced drivers licence and vehicle registration fees, reduced shire rates, and reduced water and electricity charges). The benefits far outweigh the costs (there’s no actual cost for the card, but you must meet qualifying income criteria; assets aren’t considered). And from what I gather, once you have this card, you have it for life unless your circumstances change. I’ll be eligible for one in a few months too.

I knew we had two options for dealing with Centrelink and applying for this card—attend a Centrelink office in my nearest town, waiting in line potentially for hours to see a human, only to then be told he didn’t have all the required paperwork and having to repeat the process xx times until it was all done. Or to do it online. The problem with applying online is that you first have to have a MyGov ID, which my husband doesn’t have, so I had to apply for that for him first (and set up a new email address for him), then I had to apply for a Centrelink Customer Reference Number (CRN) before I could apply for this card. I did a lot of reading beforehand to see what documents I needed to prove my husband was who he said he was. And I kept putting this off, because there were so many places it could go wrong!

But I bit the bullet last weekend. I spent most of one afternoon navigating MyGov and trying to get a Centrelink CRN and set up accounts for him. I’m tech savvy (he’s not, which is why I was doing it), I’m not stymied by online forms, and for the most part it was pretty simple. BUT, the Centrelink website says you can only get a CRN via your MyGov account, so I set that up, then tried to link to Centrelink and picked the option that said I didn’t have an account with them, so then the form wanted a CRN, which of course I didn’t have. I thought I was destined for an endless loop but a quick Google showed me that if I click on the COVID message on the MyGov website, I could apply for and get a CRN. Once that was done, it was pretty easy. I needed his passport, drivers licence, last year’s tax assessment notice, bank account details, Medicare card, tax file number, etc. to set up his account. That was enough for one day!

A few days later I logged back in to apply for the card he needs. Because I already had the other stuff set up, this was actually pretty simple and I was impressed with how easy it was. I filled the specific forms for this card, uploaded the other documents required (yes, I spent some time offline getting all this together, so the process wasn’t completely painless). The next morning I got a text message telling me that the application has been approved and I should receive the relevant card within 14 days. That ended up being far less painful than I expected, considering a human likely had to look at the supporting docs.

So, it ended up being quite easy—for me. BUT, and it’s a BIG but… While it was easy for me, it doesn’t take away the dreadful feeling I had that those who need these sorts of services the most may be the least computer literate and thus have to attend a Centrelink office several times to get it sorted out, with the associated wait time to be seen by a human, and then to be sent away to find the relevant docs. I’m in the privileged position of being computer savvy, having a computer and mobile phone, and being well organised with my paperwork. What do those who are elderly, infirm, cognitively or physically impaired, poor (therefore no computer, mobile phone), who live in regional or remote areas, who don’t speak English, who are in dire situations at home, who can’t ‘prove’ their residence because they don’t have one or have to keep moving on, who are refugees/asylum seekers, or even who aren’t tech savvy etc. do? Those who MOST need Centrelink’s services are likely locked out because the designers of these systems design them for people like them—people with jobs, people who have a roof over their head, people who can read English, people who keep copies of bills, people who have a passport or drivers licence, people who have a computer/mobile phone/internet connection and know how to use it.

It must be hell for those on the margins to be forced to do this stuff online, assuming they had all the required information. Or maybe they just give up and drop off the edge into the abyss. One thing is for certain—you would have a very hard time trying to get a federal government concession card or pension of some sort if you had almost no documentation from at least the past few years (plus something to prove date of birth and residence). So those who say that undocumented people such as refugees can rort the system, need to take a long hard look at how hard it is for someone even with documentation to access these services.

Update: A friend mentioned that many public libraries and community resource centres in country towns may end up being de facto support people helping people make Centrelink claims because that’s often the only place where there’s free internet access. So kudos to all the library and resource centre staff who do this unpaid service.

I also discovered that there’s a service for seniors (4.8 star reviews) that will help you through it all—for a fee (~$200 on application and another ~$200 on success): https://retirementessentials.com.au/

 

 





Letter to my Splendid Fairy-wrens

21 08 2020

Dear Splendid Fairy-wrens

I love you, you are the cutest little birds, and the iridescent plumage on the male is to be seen to be believed.

But would you PLEASE stop fighting the reflection of yourselves in my windows. It used to be just one bird then two and only the kitchen window and back sliding doors, but now it’s EVERY. DAMNED. WINDOW. in the house. And there are more of you this year (yes, you’ve been doing this for several years now—I think you’ve trained your kids too!). You do this for hours on end (starting just before dawn), pooping nearly every time. It must be exhausting for your tiny little bodies—you’d be better off saving your energy for feeding, breeding, and rearing your young ones.

And you don’t want to know how hard it is to get your poop off the rough brick window ledges, the windows themselves, the flyscreens, and the concrete pad around the house. Or how annoying it is to hear ‘tap tap tap’ continuously for 12 hours a day.

Yours, annoyed home owner who loves wrens, but hates the constant tapping as you fight your reflection.

PS: You’re really cute… until you’re not.

PPS: Time to bring out the ‘owl eyes’ (I have a photo of some large owl eyes that I print off and laminate and put on the windows—it seems to keep the wrens at bay, but this year I might have to make lots of copies and put them on every window).