Centrelink is the soul sucking vampire those horror movies warned you about

No one hates Centrelink more than I do. Ok – you might hate it EQUALLY to me, but not more, never more. Yes, they are a necessary evil, but they are evil and sure they paid my rent and kept me off the streets, but like… they BARELY paid my rent and BARELY kept me off the streets and they often withheld money for no good reason (like losing my paperwork) and so I had to scrimp even FURTHER to survive. They suck the life out of you, in ways someone who hasn’t been on Centrelink doesn’t understand.

When I was at university, I was a little jealous of my friends on Youth Allowance. They were allowed to work AND they had ‘free’ money coming in from the government, just for studying. Some of them deserved it, they needed it… others, well not so much. That’s why I never applied for it – I lived with my parents, I brought in around $350 a week at my part time job, I didn’t NEED any extra money. I always figured Centrelink was there for people who were desperate, and they ARE, but there’s no doubting there’s a hell of a lot of abuse on the system. (but this article isn’t about that, that’s for another time)

Thing is, if you are in need because you’re unemployed, down on your luck and struggling to get back on your feet, it’s bloody hard to get Centrelink in the first place. The amount of paperwork I had to supply and difficult, obscure questions I had to try and work out the answer to were ridiculously painful and time consuming. They were asking me questions about assets (who knows what my grandparents or parents have put in my name!) and taxes and all sorts of questions that made my head hurt.

I’m an intelligent individual though, and I’ve had a solid education, so finding these answers, although hellish, wasn’t impossible. I do wonder how someone who hasn’t had the educational opportunities I’ve had and whose family doesn’t keep good records like mine do might fill out the documents – of which there were like a MILLION! Seriously, they make you jump through more hurdles than the average Olympic Hurdler does in their career.

Besides the paperwork, let’s discuss some of these other hurdles:

1. On NewStart (the payments I was on) you have to apply for ten jobs a fortnight. Easy, I thought, I’ll knock those out in a day and be off the system before it’s even had time to process my first payment. Yeah, ten job applications doesn’t sound like much – except when there’s only maybe six jobs that fortnight in your career field and you’re only eligible for like… two of them. Centrelink doesn’t care, they expect you to apply for jobs, any jobs, get a job. Your career means nothing to them, they’re about jobs. You know what? That’s fine for someone my age, who has barely taken one step forward, I can fall back – but for someone older than me? Someone more established? Why should they be expected to go so far backwards? And trust me, it happens.

2. You have to attend Job Seeker meetings, which I had a good old rant about here. They are honestly the worst and so soul sucking.

3. Writing cover letters is balls. Seriously, I never, ever want to write another cover letter EVER again. I wrote more cover letters than I’ve written blog posts, short stories and articles combined. There are only so many different ways you can write ‘I have a degree in this and this kind of experience’ before you want to start ramming your head into the wall and even when your DREAM role comes up, you still can’t muster the enthusiasm because you’ve written the same sentences so many times over that you feel sorry for the recruiter at the other end, reading your (basically) suicidal letter, begging them to throw you a bone. No wonder you end up stuck in an endless cycle of unemployment.

4. Centrelink wait times are hell. If you want to call in to talk to them, expect at least a sixty minute wait on the phone (yes, an HOUR) and if you go to visit them in person, goodbye your ENTIRE day, you might as well take your bed with you because you’re never leaving. Oh and that one little reason you went to see them? You probably filled out some paperwork and guess what? IT GOT LOST! This happened to me on five different occasions and meant my payments got messed up and I ended up skint. How hard it is to not lose a piece of paper? Seriously, just type it straight into your computer and voila! Done! (I’ll admit, I solved the telephone problem at least by sending them emails to call me, it was the superior option!)

5. You have to rock up regularly to show them you’re still a hopeless bum who can’t get a job and sit with all the other hopeless bums, many of whom will be off their nutter because they’ve been on the system for years and it’s actually driven them insane. I encountered a man who tried to convince Centrelink that the chihuahua in his pocket was his ‘seeing eye dog’ and another man who rocked up with no pants on, a woman who tried to smoke inside and more people without teeth than you can poke a stick at. I fully believe all these people were functional members of society before they got laid off and ended up on Centrelink – and I was convinced I was on the fast track to becoming them.

And then, after all of the above, Centrelink gives you the measliest amount of money – I got just over $550 a fornight. After $500 went to rent, I was left with PENNIES to get me through until my next pay cheque – and I was one of the lucky ones, I had a small amount of savings and parents who could loan me money if I fell short. It’s nearly (although not entirely) impossible to live on the amount Centrelink bestow upon you.

Oh and to keep getting that $550ish was a full time job in itself. I had my rental assistance ($80 of the total, yes they contributed $80 whole to my $500 a fortnight rent and they thought that was fair) cut more than once, because they kept losing the copies of the lease I had to keep giving to them. And every time I had to go down and supply them with yet ANOTHER copy of my lease, it took like four hours. Thanks, Centrelink.

Look, I don’t blame the people who work there – God knows their job is exhausting and draining and involves dealing with nut jobs and lots of people who are angry at the world. But I do blame the system, it’s a terrible system and it needs some major overhauling.

I’m going to stop ranting now, but tune in later for when I make suggestions on how to improve the foul experience that I described above…

In the mean time, how did you find your experiences with Centrelink? How did you survive? Were you able to manage on the payments they gave you? Did you encounter any difficulty in obtaining payments? I want to know! Tell me in the comments below!