Bureaucracy STINKS!!! update

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Marguerite, Jun 23, 2008.

  1. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I considered adding to my previous "Bureaucracy rant" but it had fallen too far back (page 3, as I type this) to resurrect.

    Time for an update. It will also help me put my thoughts in order as I type my complaint letter.

    difficult child 1 has been receiving disability since he turned 16. He is now 24. Besides paying a pension, this also entitles him to certain other benefits including some health insurance bonuses (cheaper medications, cheaper or free doctor visits and tests) and assistance in other areas such as one free college course a year, fee-free bank accounts, discounts on car registration etc. I was also receiving a Carer Payment for a while. In Australia ALL welfare payments, including some which just about every Aussie family gets, is administered through a huge government organisation called Centrelink.

    When a person in receipt of a pension gets a job, Centrelink has to be notified within two weeks. The aim is to prevent over-payment of pension because they WILL come after you for the money, they will get it back in blood if they must. difficult child 3 has officially authorised me to negotiate with Centrelink on his behalf (which involves passwords, code numbers, reference numbers and personal security information before you can even talk to a person).
    So when difficult child 3 got a job at the beginning of the year, I made sure that Centrelink were notified, fast. I rang them to let them know he was working, but I didn't have his pay slips for final detailed information. As it happened difficult child 1 was able to make a personal visit one afternoon (fifteen minutes before closing time) and showed them his pay slips so they could log his hours, his pay rate, his starting date and contact details of the employer.

    A couple of weeks later he was doing some online banking with husband, and noticed that his pension was still being paid, even though he was drawing a wage. I rang Centrelink the next day to request that payment of his pension be suspended.
    Two weeks later, he had lost his job (he was good at washing cars; not so good at parking them without damaging them. They liked him but couldn't afford to keep paying for the repairs).
    So I rang Centrelink again to get his pension payment recommenced. Because he had been overpaid, he had to pay back the amount overpaid. It was calculated, seemed a bit larger than we expected but we figured that it was only fair to pay back every cent that was overpaid.

    Flash forward - three months later, while still trying to get him an apprenticeship, I managed to get him a foot in the door with a furniture company. They said they couldn't afford to give an apprenticeship to someone his age. I asked if he could just spend a few days at their company, unpaid, just trying out the sort of work they did to see if difficult child 1 was on the right path. Given the prospect of unpaid labour, they jumped at it.
    As I hoped, they liked him and offered him a job (as labourer). A week's trial to begin with.
    Good. I waited for a pay slip, but none arrived so although we had no info, I rang Centrelink to at least let them know he had a job. Again.
    Centrelink of course wanted details on when he started, what his hours were, how much he was earning. And who he was working for. I didn't have the info but they at least logged that they had been notified. I did tell them he was working close to full-time.

    Over the next few weeks there were still no pay slips from his work. I wasn't even sure if he was being paid. I told him to ask; he said he did, and was told the accounts person was on long service leave and he would get pay slips when they returned.

    Meanwhile I had discovered that when a disability pensioner gets an apprenticeship, the government subsidises his salary very generously. In other words, for probably less than they were paying difficult child 1 as a labourer, the company could employ him as an apprentice and give him a leg up the employment ladder. The people to organise it would have to be the disability employment service who difficult child 1 had been seeing for two years or more.

    A big catch - his pension would have to be current, although suspended payment would be OK. With a new job, pension should be current for the next 12 months.

    The disability agency were working on things, but because it had been such a long time for difficult child 1 on their books without a job, he had to reapply. This meant getting paperwork filled in by his specialist and getting a Job Capacity Assessment (JCA) done at Centrelink.
    difficult child 1's first RDO (rostered day off) came up. He gets one a month. He used it to get his new-old car serviced, plus I drove him to the disability agency to see his caseworker (who was helping get him listed back with them, so they could then try to get the apprenticeship possibility ironed out). His disability caseworker took him to Centrelink to lodge paperwork. The doctor's report was lodged (already had been) and the Centrelink staffer then said they would have to organise a JCA.
    difficult child 1 asked why, since he was working, would he need to do a test to see if he could work. He didn't want to jeopardise his new job by asking for time off to do a test that didn't seem necessary. In fact, difficult child 1 was thinking the whole process wasn't necessary and he should maybe chuck the whole thing since he had a job and no longer needed his pension.
    I understand the logic - it seems the right thing to do.

    End result of that meeting - the disability caseworker said they'd work at the agency to find another way, so difficult child 1 wouldn't have to take time off work for something so unnecessary. The Centrelink staffer seemed to not "get" that difficult child 1 was unwilling to attend a JCA because he was unable to take time off work to do so.
    Also, outcome of that meeting - difficult child 1 had discovered that his pension was still being paid, 3 weeks after I had requested it to be suspended. I rang them the next day to AGAIN ask for payment to be suspended, on the grounds that he was working. And no, we still didn't have the details we needed, I could only give them a rough estimate. Surely that would be enough for now? No, they said.

    A week later I spoke to the boss at the disability agency - Centrelink had agreed to do a JCA over the phone for difficult child 1, it was happening as we spoke. After that it would be a matter of days and difficult child 1 would be back on their books and they could then get his apprenticeship set up. They could also get the pay slip info (still not forthcoming from the employer).

    Then difficult child 1 got the letter from Centrelink - "your pension has been cancelled due to your failure to report. Tear up your concession card and do not apply for any pensioner-related benefits" sort of thing.
    difficult child 1 was angry - "But I was there last week!" Then, "I don't need them anyway. I've got a job now, I can look after myself from here."

    I pointed out, "Without your pension being current, you can't get your apprenticeship subsidy."

    Phone calls have flown back and forth. I became more and more irate as I dealt with Catch 22 circular logic. The cancellation was because we still had not been able to give those vital employment details EXACTLY. A rough idea was just not enough. In vain I pleaded that difficult child 1 was now being penalised for his employer's failures. They said difficult child 1 should get the info. I said that his extreme anxiety meant that he just couldn't, which meant that Centrelink's obstinacy was punishing difficult child 1 because of his disability. This is discriminatory.

    I took my complaint to our government representative who finally was able to kick enough rear ends. There were other hassles happening too - I won't go into detail here - which frankly are actionable in a big way. It did include, though, the doctor's report going missing and no record, either, of the JCA that difficult child 1 did over the phone.

    Tuesday last week, I got an extremely apologetic phone call from a senior staffer at Centrelink. All was fixed. difficult child 1's pension was reinstated (but not payment, of course). He was once again a client of the disability agency. But we had to get that info within two weeks, at which point the computer would again flag difficult child 1's file. I then rang the disability agency to organise it.

    Flash forward again to today. Incoming mail. A big bundle from Centrelink. A letter dated 17 June saying his pension had been reinstated. Another (undated), with a new pension card. A third (undated), with a request for a report from his treating specialist. Then a letter dated 18 June, the image of the earlier one which caused the upset - "your pension has been cancelled for failure to report." And another, demanding payment of excess pension paid (due to their failure to stop payment when I had requested).

    I rang. Again. And amazingly got someone helpful. HOwever, each time I ring I get told stuff which is contradictory. This person today was the sole voice of reason in the months I've been calling them. He said that the estimate I gave back at the beginning of May should have been enough to prevent all these hassles, all the threats of fine and prosecution, all the cancellations etc. He was going to make some enquiries and call me back.

    While I waited, I called the disability agency to keep them informed. Then I called the local government rep, requesting more read ends be kicked.

    It took me weeks of phone calls, tears, blood pressure crises and rages to get things fixed - and they stayed fixed for a day, even though we had been promised two weeks.

    Without his pension (even suspended), we can't get the apprenticeship. I was just about to send off the new prescriptions for the kids' medications, but the pharmacy MUST have the pension card details as well. But every time they send him a new pension card, they tell him to tear it up by following letter!

    I am still waiting for people to call me back. I'm getting increasingly vocal about my threats to go to the media.

    I've also found (last Tuesday) that whenever he's been overpaid by Centrelink (generally due to Centrelink's refusal to suspend payment, even after we've asked and given them the employment details) that he is getting charged 10% routinely, as "punishment" for allowing the overpayment to happen!

    To say I'm furious is a major understatement. And I am calm, compared to difficult child 1.

    He had another RDO today (which means it's a month since he last visited Centrelink's office). He used it to get his car registration and insurance renewed for the year. But although he was home, there was no way that he could handle any of the phone calls associated with these hassles.

    So here I sit, surrounded by an increasingly large pile of paper detailing the idiocy of the system, wondering if there is any chance we can get an apprenticeship for this lad in time for HIS WEDDING IN NOVEMBER!!!

    I am also drafting a letter appealing the payment of every amount of money he has given Centrelink to allegedly repay overpayment. I want it all audited and checked, and any amount over the basic $ amount refunded to difficult child 1. He should not have to pay a 10% fine on top of paying back money that was sent to him AFTER he requested payment to be suspended due to his income change.

    Tell me - is it only Australia that gets it this badly wrong? And how, with a country's population of only about 20 million, can a bureaucracy build up that is so complicated despite its purpose being to help the disabled?

  2. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    I didn't really understand the whole post, but wow! In Australia it is so much easier to get help than it is here. We have to BEG for disability and if the child gets a job there is no pension or subsidy, in fact he can LOSE benefits. You are really in trouble if you have no job.
    Interesting post.
    The bureaucracy in the US is terrible, but I'd put up with it if I could get better government benefits for my son. Or the rest of us!
  3. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    We do have a lot of help, especially our health care system. Our GST pays for a lot of it (it's been a great money-spinner for the government). The downside to it all is the interconnectedness of all the information. For example Centrelink knew independently that difficult child 1 had a job, because a new employer has to file the new employee's tax file number, and that notification went straight to Centrelink. Also, if difficult child 1 doesn't pay back any money they say is owed, Centrelink can just take it from his pay.

    difficult child 1 got his disability pension back in 2000. If he has to reapply, he probably won't get it. Right now it's almost impossible to get. There was a case on TV last week of a woman who had a stroke. She can't stand or walk unassisted, she can't feed herself. But they won't give her a disability pension. Not only that, because she's not on disability, she MUST register for work and go to job interviews.

    I heard about another woman, the aunt of one of difficult child 3's drama classmates, who Centrelink told to go to a job interview or else she would lose her (fairly meagre) payment. She was 8 months pregnant at the time, and repeatedly told them so (plus had already sent in doctors' reports to that effect) but did what she was told and went to the job interview. The personnel officer was horrified - no way could they employ a woman who should have already (by law) been off work waiting to have her baby.

    On the surface we seem to have a generous and supportive welfare system. In actuality, it's a nightmare. But it's so interconnected with so many areas, so many government areas that we MUST register for, that we can't escape it.

    Our health care system, for example, is caught in it as well. And every Australian citizen is registered each with their own number, for health care. We often have to pay extra, sometimes a lot, but it is good to know we have some health cover. However the lack of privacy that goes with it, and the way it hooks us into the complexity of government departments, is a problem.

    And difficult child 1 is going to have to deal with this somehow.

    Not a hope in - purgatory!

  4. KTMom91

    KTMom91 Well-Known Member

    The State of California doesn't want to do too much for you, that's for sure. When it came time to renew Miss KT's Medi-Cal, they sent me this giant pile of papers, and then wanted us to send in our original driver's licenses, birth certificates, Social Security cards, etc. to verify citizenship. While I agree that they should be verifying citizenship, what am I supposed to do without my driver's license for three months, or however long it takes them? And can they ensure our info is safe? How easy would identity theft be, with someone's birth certificate and Social Security card? No, thank you.
  5. KateM

    KateM Member

    Oh, Marg, what a mess! Thank goodness difficult child 1 has you to go to bat for him! How does the gov't expect people with various disabilities to navigate the system?? I know you are a warrior mom with lots of experience, so I know you'll be able to get this all straightened out, but they really are making it difficult for you!!
  6. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    YOu should be able to present at an office somewhere with your originals, and get them copied and the copies certified, on the spot. Alternatively, you should be able to send in certified copies. Surely it would be unlawful to not have a copy of your drivers license while driving? It is here - even if we just drive to the corner shop for milk, we MUST have our license with us. We can't "leave it in the other trousers".

    difficult child 1 keeps losing his birth certificate. Just today, we received (at a fair bit of expense and a lot of waiting) another official "original birth certificate". husband is taking it to his work tomorrow to photocopy it and get a Justice of the Peace (there are a few in his workplace) to certify that the photocopies are legit - he has to sight the original at time of signing on the copies. difficult child 1 needs a birth certificate in order to lodge his application to be married. He'll also need drivers licence etc for ID, but again - certified copies are the rule.

  7. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It


    I am sorry you are going through so much harrassment with this. This is as ludicrous as our system. I am glad the local representative is so willing to go to bat for you. Here, that is so hard to get.

    I will send hugs and a big bubble bath (or glass of wine, or book you can lose yourself in, or whatever will relax you most).
  8. SomewhereOutThere

    SomewhereOutThere Well-Known Member

    My best friend had terminal cancer. She could NOT get disability because she hadn't worked enough hours and hadn't paid into it enough. TERMINAL CANCER!!!!
    The system is sick.
  9. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    MWM, we have people having difficulty getting on to disability if their condition is acute. Terminal cancer would be seen as acute.

    Back when difficult child 1 got his pension, it was easier. He wouldn't qualify these days if he had to reapply. That is another reason to ensure he doesn't lose the pension classification on a whim, even if he is earning his own wage. He's supposed to have a year's grace (I was told this morning, two years) to make sure that the job will work out and he won't end up worse off than before, for merely trying to get a job.

    I got a phone call first thing this morning, from someone at the local branch. She emphasised the difference between the call centre, and the branch. Apparently the call centre cannot suspend or recommence payments, only the branch can. Well, I wish the call centre staff had made tis clear, all the times I've rung them to ask for payment to be suspended because he is working.

    She did say that when difficult child 1 finally gets his pay slips, we should go into a b ranch in person and make the changes; that way, there should be no misunderstandings and pension would be immediately suspended. I told her that it didn't happen that way last time, and he got a bill (probably with 10% added secretly, as we've been told is customary).

    She recommended his pension and somehow managed to do it without it automatically reinstating the now-suspended pay. She read me the transcript entered by the call centre person I called back on 7 May. There was no mention of difficult child 1 working close enough to full-time, and no mention of him now being in paid work - both things I said. And no mention of my firm request to suspend payment immediately. And because the file doesn't mention it, I have no proof I said it (apart from my own notes, which of course are MY notes and therefore automatically suspect to Centrelink).

    So as of this morning, it's all reinstated with payment suspended.

    I wonder what tomorrow morning will bring?

  10. klmno

    klmno Active Member

    This sounds so frustrating. Is there no way to just write a short letter and attach copies of everything they need (or ask for), drop it in the mail (certified) and forget about it? This sounds like a full time job in itself to deal with them.

  11. Wiped Out

    Wiped Out Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Sorry you and difficult child 1 are having to deal with all of this. Yikes!
  12. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    klmno, the stuff they want is difficult child 1's pay slips. But he hasn't been given any. His employer is responsible, they have written to him, but still nothing is forthcoming. The disability agency caseworker is visiting the employer on Friday and will hopefully get the details then.
    I don't think the employer is a bad bloke, I just think he's a better carpenter than bookkeeper.

    And yes, it really is a full-time job at the moment.

    As for sending them the stuff they want - they asked for a treating doctor's report. The disability staffer took it in personally and handed it over, in person. And now Centrelink says it's not there.

    Stuff can disappear, things get rewritten (or logged incorrectly to begin with) and it comes down to your word against theirs. Unless you take photographs, dated, of the paperwork being handed over, there is no guarantee they will accept it as proof. And maybe even if you do...

    And in another 18 months, difficult child 3 gets to apply for a disability pension...

  13. flutterbee

    flutterbee Guest


    Unfortunately, it's not just government that is that bad. Try a major financial institution or any other large corporation. Call their customer service line 5 times, get 5 different people and 5 different answers to the same question.

    Any organization that gets too big - government or private sector - doesn't know what their left hand is doing.
  14. susiestar

    susiestar Roll With It


    I am sorry you are having such a rough time with this. maybe a party call (where you and another person are on the line with Centrelink) would help document what is going on??Have employer or therapist or someone that is "responsible" be the other party?? (NOT that you aren't responsible, just that this organization is so suspicious).

    Anyway, HUGS!!!!

  15. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    I got another call this morning, from the same person who was profusely apologetic last week. "Of course we can change it all and reinstate his pension, but it does get cancelled immediately if the details are not provided," she said.
    I pointed out that 12 hours was not enough time and that she had given me two weeks. The agency is going in on Friday (they can't go in sooner - they are at a training program for three days while their office is being relocated). THe agency caseworker's prime objective is to get the information requested.

    But in today's call I said that I had been told we COULD give an approximate figure. I could make an educated guess, in other words. This is what I tried to do originally, back at the beginning of May.

    She rang me back after checking that this would be OK - so we now have provisional figures lodged. Hopefully that should stop the automatic overnight computer cancellation that has been happening.

    As for a party line - I don't think they would do it because every person in the party at least has to be "in" on the confidentiality thing. I wouldn't be able to do it when I ring them, and that is always a call centre call. And I can never know when they are going to ring me, although I suppose they could set it up. Not that they would be agreeable; they would say it's not necessary.

    They need make no concessions. They're bigger than me. They are government. All I am entitled to is what the law provides.

    The main resource I have, is public opinion and a new Federal government trying to clean up the messes of the old.

    We'll know more on Friday. Meanwhile the file of incoming mail from these guys is getting thicker. My complaint letter is getting longer and more detailed.

    Every time I call them, or they call me, I document everything onto a text file in my computer. Where possible I will quote someone, noting down what they said word for word. I also will quote myself, to make sure I have a record of what I told them. They are supposed to do the same but are often getting it wrong. They tell me that the best way to ensure people get it right, it to either do it in writing, or go in there in person. But even in person, they get it wrong!

    I think once we're through all this, I will write a handbook for the general public, on how to deal with Centrelink; the code words to use and what they mean ("report" takes on an entirely new meaning) and how to extricate yourself from difficulties.

    I can dream...