It was a simple application to a government department that would help young school leaver Emily Wells secure her future.
Emily’s Youth Allowance application only required a “rubber stamp” from Centrelink’s head office but it took nearly four months to be endorsed and almost resulted in the 18-year-old joining the ranks of the unemployed.
Emily had plans to study business administration at Hunter TAFE and because her Youth Allowance had not been signed off on, it was going to cost her more than $1300 for the course, money her pensioner parents could not help pay.
“I was thinking of asking my grandparents for the money but I didn’t have the heart,” she said.
Emily completed her schooling at Cessnock High School last year.
She submitted her form for Youth Allowance in November and was told it would be effective from January 1.
“I went to TAFE and filled out the application only to discover that nothing had been processed,” Emily said.
“I felt really let down. I was just out of high school and was hoping there would be something there to support me financially and it wasn’t,” she said.
Emily was supposed to receive a government payment of $1310 to cover the bulk of her TAFE fees, she needed to contribute $240, but because her application had not been processed she was told to she would have to pay the full amount.
Emily’s father contacted Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon and Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, who both intervened on Emily’s behalf.
When Emily contacted Mr Fitzgibbon’s office staff called Cessnock Centrelink, who followed up the Youth Allowance application.
Because the application had been straight forward and was simply waiting for approval, Centrelink staff were able to deal with it immediately.
All applications for Youth Allowance are dealt with off-site and therefore local offices have little or no control over the processing times, Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“We also called Clayton Barr, who spoke with Hunter TAFE to ensure that Emily and kids like her were not prevented from enrolling while waiting for youth allowance applications to be approved,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“TAFE were very responsive and willing to work around the issue.
“I’m very pleased that I was able to promptly resolve Emily’s issue and I encourage anyone in similar circumstances to contact my office.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the decline in the level of access to Centrelink and Medicare services had reached crisis point and the Turnbull government stood condemned.
Aged pensioners and other recipients are spending hours on hold on the phone as they attempt to secure assistance from both agencies.
“Of course it’s not just the clients being affected, hard-working and skilled Centrelink staff are under enormous pressure as resources continue to be cut,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.]
Difficult time of the year
Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said the start of the semester is always an extremely difficult time of the year for the department which handles Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support agencies.
“It is peak period for students to lodge new claims, which the department processes as quickly as possible,” Mr Jongen said.
“During busy periods such as this it may take longer than usual to process student claims.”
He said as it is a busy time of year some customers may also experience longer than usual call wait times.
“Call wait times for departmental services vary according to seasonal demands and the January to February period is traditionally one of the main peak periods due to people managing January 1 payment changes and families gearing up for back to school and study,” Mr Jongen said.
He said the department is replacing its outdated telephone system and new technology is expected to be in place later in 2016, including modern call back functionality.
Customers can conduct much of their business online or through the Express Plus app.
“If customers need to speak to us directly they can call or visit us face-to-face at one of our service centres.