24 March 2020

Centrelink confusion as lines extend around the block

| Dominic Giannini
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Centrelink Woden

The Centrelink line at Woden this morning (23 March) where waiting times were well over an hour. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Centrelink lines across Canberra stretched around the block as waiting times blew out to over an hour by 10:00 am this morning (23 March) after a second stimulus package and more shutdown restrictions were announced last night.

Many in the line were having trouble with the MyGov website even before it crashed on Monday morning after extreme demand and a denial of service (DD0S) cyber attack pushed it beyond its 55,000 user limit, the Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert said.

He walked back his earlier comments this afternoon, telling Parliament that the increased demand triggered a DDoS alarm and that there is no evidence of a specific cyber attack.

Danny was one of the dozens of people queuing this morning.

Danny doesn’t want to charge his tenants their full amount of rent in the next couple of months, but he himself will be forced to sell up if he does not get help from the government soon.

“I do not really want to take money from others who may need it more but I might only be able to last two months before I will have to start relying on family,” Danny told Region Media outside the Woden Centrelink this morning.

“My partner is working a lot of overtime shifts to try and keep the money up.”

Danny’s sister and partner are both nurses and were worried about him coming out to the Centrelink office today – a concern he shared – but he had no other choice after being laid off from Defence Housing Australia.

“I had an interview with KPMG and was about to go up to Sydney for the final interview but then they told me not to bother because they just implemented a hiring freeze,” he said.

“I could sell that second house but I do not know if anyone will buy it in this market, or what would happen to the tenants.

“I am happy to work for the money as well, I have a lot of skills I could offer Services Australia.”

Danny is one of thousands of anxious Australians in the same position after new lockdown restrictions forced the closures of gyms and indoor sporting venues, bars and clubs, cinemas and entertainment venues, and restaurants and cafes.

Joey Brogden turned 18 a few weeks ago but is going to have to wait before celebrating at pubs and clubs, an otherwise coming-of-age staple in Australia. She was a childcare worker studying languages at ANU, but her income has been scrapped now because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

“I applied for Austudy more than three months ago and I still have not got an answer about whether the application has been accepted or declined,” she said, pointing to dozens of text messages from Centrelink saying she did not need to do anything while it was being processed.

Austudy messages

Joey Brogden receives regular measures from Centrelink saying that her application still has not been processed despite submitting it three months ago. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

With Joey having no income at the moment while her application is still being processed, and her dad losing his support payments after Joey left school, the financial stress on the family is mounting.

Since applying for the Austudy payment three months ago, her financial situation has changed three times, from working three days and earning $120 a week, then working one day a week, and then turning 18 and having her hourly rate changed.

“I do not know if I need to update my application, or if I can apply for other government payments,” she said.

The eligibility for the extra $750 support payment from 31 March is available to people receiving certain payments on any day between 12 March to 13 April 2020, according to Services Australia. A $550 coronavirus supplement will also be made available fortnightly to people on the JobSeeker payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, and others for the next six months.

However, Joey says with her application in limbo, she does not know if she will be able to get the payment because of the cut-off dates if she does not get a reply soon, or if the payment would be backdated.

“The website is incredibly confusing and hard to work around and know what you can and cannot get. It goes round and round in circles,” she said.

Student bartender Moniker Murphy knows exactly how tough navigating Centrelink can be, after losing her bar job because of the recent shutdowns. She is now out of a job for at least three to six months, but no one is able to give her a certain answer, making financial planning almost impossible.

“The Centrelink website is not helpful,” she said. “It is like you need someone there to navigate it for you which is why I just came in because it is better to talk to someone face-to-face and have them explain it to you.

“The old system could not handle the demand and it does not seem like they have put any more measures in place to help support the announcements so they are not ready for this increase.”

The Commonwealth Government has announced an extra 5,000 staff for Services Australia to assist with the delivery of the new stimulus measures, but it is not clear when they will start working, with only three people allowed into the Woden Centrelink at a time this morning.

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HiddenDragon9:21 pm 24 Mar 20

The Centrelink site rarely seems to have all the information you need, even for what should be relatively straightforward matters, on the one page. Typically, you have to click through to several other pages to get the full details regarding eligibility conditions etc.

That’s no great problem when you are not in a particular hurry to get answers and when your internet connection is fast and reliable and when the Centrelink/MyGov site is working well, but when it’s slow and patchy, drop-outs, frozen screens etc. would be distressing and infuriating.

rationalobserver4:18 pm 24 Mar 20

I tried to register with Centrelink this morning via MyGov.

I was unable to create an account without a client reference number. Never having dealt with them before, I did not have one of those.

That meant I could not even register (from a trusted source no less) let alone apply for anything.

So much for cutting red tape.

If the minimum wage is $740 pw and Centrelink is now $550 pw plus rent assistance etc why even have a minimum wage job? Quit work and stay home, you might be better off.

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